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Ireland’s reputation as a world-class international study destination has rapidly gained traction over the last decade, seeing the number of international students choosing to study there almost triple. Word has spread and Ireland’s profile, outside of the traditional mainstays of the US, UK and Canada is increasing in more diverse markets. Attracted by the country’s unique qualities, educational offer and post-studies work opportunities, students in diversity markets are realising Ireland is not only a place where they can secure a highly regarded qualification, but also a place where they can springboard their careers post studies. Of the 72,000 students who graduated in Ireland in 2021, just over 10,000 were international students, according to HEA data.
This article provides a brief insight into the higher education landscape in Ireland and the drivers behind Ireland’s growing popularity among international students. It considers student motivations for choosing Ireland; fields of study where Ireland is accelerating and opportunities for further growth; initiatives undertaken by Irish institutions and the Irish government to ensure its global reach; perceptions of students on the ground in terms of student satisfaction and access to post-study work visas; finally, it presents the views of counsellors and the activities being undertaken by IDP to amplify Ireland’s visibility among a broader range of markets.
Irish universities have firmly established their position among QS top-ranking universities for its quality of provision in subjects such as medicine, engineering, IT and technology. According to both HEA subject demand data and IQ subject demand data, the most popular field of study for international students is Health and Welfare.
HEA Subject Area Enrolment Trends
IQ Demand Search by Subject Area
Ireland’s reputation as a top study destination for Medicine and related sub-disciplines is corroborated by both HEA demand data and IQ Demand. The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland’s and the Royal College of Surgeons, not only have excellent reputations globally but they also have strong brand awareness in countries around the world as a result of their network of sister colleges. These strong partnerships enable Ireland to meet its labour shortages in healthcare by providing a steady supply of medical professionals to work in Ireland post-studies. Understandably then, Health and Medicine are the most popular subjects in terms of international market demand.
Given the post-studies work opportunities available in Ireland, Europe’s fastest growing tech centre, demand levels for Computer Science and Information Technology related courses among international students is relatively low when compared to that of Health and Welfare. Considering Ireland’s reputation as the ‘Silicon Valley’ of Europe and home to the European headquarters of some of the biggest names in the global tech industry, such as Apple, Google, Meta, Facebook, PayPal, IBM etc., this area has yet to realise its full potential among more diverse markets. However, demand from both India and China source markets is strong and dominates the market share of applications and searches for this field of study, with increasing interest from Malaysia.
The table below shows the subject demand in Ireland according to IDP’s IQ Demand tracker. Computer and Mathematical Science currently receives 6.38% share of total demand in Ireland.
The correlation between Ireland’s appeal as an international study destination and the country’s economic success is demonstrated by Ireland having some of the highest post-studies employment rates globally. According to Liam Ryan, Undergraduate Recruitment Manager, University of Limerick: “The employment opportunities and practical, industry focused studies are a major selling point. Our graduate outcomes are amazing, with 97% of students in relevant work or further studies within 6 months of graduating. The visa allowance in Ireland allows graduates to work here and take advantage of one of the fastest growing economies in Europe.”
Suffice to say, Ireland’s economic success and portfolio of tech and STEM companies has garnered global attention and is contributing to Ireland’s appeal as an international study destination. An abundance of post-study work opportunities makes Ireland a favourable destination and one where higher education is also helping fill labour gaps in the country. The Irish Government is ensuring it keeps the best minds and innovators in-country to help meet its labour market needs, by offering attractive post-study work visas which allow students to stay for up to two years.
The graph below shows the perceptions of international students in terms of post-study work visas. Ireland ranks the highest according to our Emerging Futures II survey carried out in August 2022, compared to other destination markets.
Beyond the focus of academic achievement and employability prospects, Irish institutions alongside non-governmental and governmental bodies are working closely to ensure they are meeting students’ needs in terms of support, particularly around mental health, such as the ‘Togetherall’ campaign, in partnership with the Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education Ireland (PCHEI), providing students in higher education with 24/7 access to mental health support. Comparing the two tables below, it is clear to see Ireland is performing above average compared to other destination markets in terms of student support.
Emerging Futures II (Aug 2022) Student Support Services in Ireland
Emerging Futures II – Student Support Services all other destinations
Furthermore, Irish institutions are individually taking steps to enhance the experience of international students by implementing the following initiatives:
The University of Limerick – invested heavily in student support and extra-curricular activities for international students
Dublin City University – dedicated webpage for international student support and development
University College Cork – implemented a global initiative plan to internationalise curriculums and research through strategic partnership
University College Dublin – developed 'Jumpstart' an online resource aimed at supporting international students, pre-departure, for life in Ireland
Ireland is very popular amongst international students, due to its welcoming environment. We spoke with Wee Jian Ng, a current student at the University of Limerick who stated that the best part of studying there is ‘to discover yourself, your passions and improve,’ noting the importance of this in terms of student health and the support available for students, ‘People genuinely care about you in Ireland. My experience is that you are supported, encouraged, helped and not judged’.
Satisfaction rates among students studying in Ireland, according to IDP’s Emerging Futures II (Aug 2022)
According to IDP’s Emerging Futures II survey (Aug 2022) above, satisfaction rates among international students studying in Ireland are either good or exceed expectations. As demonstrated in the table above; however, there are areas of concern, albeit reflecting smaller percentages. Clarity regarding visa permissions in terms of part-time work, highlights the need for counsellors to be able to provide more detail on student visa rights and part-time work opportunities, including the number of hours a student is permitted to work while in full-time education. Students who come from lower income backgrounds may depend on part-time work to support their studies. These are conversations where counsellors play an integral role in managing students’ expectations.
According to our Counsellors on the ground in China, prospective students often struggle to differentiate between Ireland and UK, finding the divide between the two countries “rather blurred.” When choosing study destinations, they generally focus on the most well-known universities among Chinese employers. They have recommended that Irish universities establish more partnerships within China in both education and industry, which would help to enhance Ireland’s visibility. Most postgraduate students find Ireland attractive because of its highly developed tech industry and post studies work prospects. It also perceived in China as a “peaceful place” and easier to access student visas compared to the UK, which is a big draw. Since 2018, Chinese interest in Ireland has significantly grown. Chinese students are now the third largest international cohort studying in Ireland.
Likewise in Vietnam, our counsellors feel Ireland’s reach is limited by lack of familiarity with the country and few familial ties which encourage students to apply to other destinations where they may have stronger support networks. They also mention the visa process for Ireland poses a barrier for Vietnamese students; particularly, the need to provide proof of monthly income. They would like to see the visa process simplified, which they think could incentivise more prospective students to choose Ireland. Those students who are attracted to the country are highly motivated by Ireland’s wide range of scholarships; its reputation as a tech hub and the job opportunities there. Interest in Ireland is growing. According to IDP’s Hotcourses search data for Ireland in Vietnam are on the increase. Irish related articles are up by 186%; Course related searches are up 18%; lists of universities in Ireland are up by 191%. Ireland is now the 15th most popular destination for Vietnamese students, up by 59% on the previous year.
Our counsellors report that prospective students find the Irish embassy to be accessible, efficient and helpful when processing student visas. They are also attracted to Ireland because it is deemed more affordable than the UK. Some Indonesian universities have established links with Irish institutions for short six-month courses, which then allows students to familiarise with the country, often resulting in students wishing to stay on and continue their studies there. This type of partnership is proving extraordinarily successful in increasing Ireland’s visibility in the region. Indonesians are also very attracted by the work opportunities Ireland has to offer in the tech industry, acting as a huge incentive. According to IDP’s Hotcourses search data, interest in Ireland has grown by 21% over the past year and is the 23rd most popular destination for Indonesian students.
In January 2023, IDP held two training sessions on Ireland with the global counsellor network. In attendance were 100 counsellors from 19 different countries. The sessions included a ‘Destination in Focus’ session and a subject-specific session in conjunction with the University of Galway, focussing on their MSc Cyber Security and Risk Management programme; the other was with the University of Limerick which focussed on their Public Health programmes.
IDP works with twelve institutions across Ireland, eight of which are Core Partners. Since establishing its working relationship with Ireland in 2019, IDP has seen significant growth in interest in Ireland of over 300%. Ireland’s largest international cohort of students come from the USA, followed by India and China. In terms of digital engagement, Indian students account for around 15% of demand, while the other 85% of digital engagement is coming from markets outside of India. Therefore, we believe that both digital marketing strategies, combined with well-informed counsellors on the ground, will continue to increase Ireland’s global reach into diversity markets.
As evidenced throughout the article, Irish institutions need to further develop relationships with partner institutions in source countries, as this has proven to be an effective strategy in building brand awareness and creating confidence among international students when choosing their study abroad destination. Consequently, awareness of Ireland as a European tech centre and the potential it has to offer international students is increasing; however, there is still room for growth if Ireland wishes to accelerate diversification in source markets outside of India and China, where it currently has most visibility.
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