| Green Glory: A parade on the occasion of St Patrick’s Day in Belfast. St Patrick, whose favourite colour was green, is the patron saint of Ireland
It seems to be the hottest emerging destination on the educational radar of GenNext. The land of Joyce, Yeats, Wilde and the band U2 has come calling. A delegation from Education Ireland — Ireland’s education bureau — arrived in India this month with a clutch of representatives from its premier universities and educational institutes in tow to rope in prospective students. A posse of educationists, administrators, lecturers and visa facilitating officers were on hand to inform interested candidates of the pros and cons of Irish education and why its stock has shot up so suddenly. And, the exotic — but empty — bottles of Baileys Irish Cream by their crowded kiosks looked like ready bait.
“The surge in obtaining an Irish degree is because of the expansion of the Irish economy,” says John Lynch, chief executive, Education Ireland. “And the expansion of the Irish economy is due to globalisation.” Ireland is amongst the fastest growing economies in Europe along with Scotland, with the IT sector cranking up serious pressure on the likes of Silicon Valley, California, and our very own Bangalore.
But faced with competition from the likes of the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other powerhouses of the First World, how does Ireland hope to sway international students to its shores? What is Ireland’s USP?
“First, we have high educational standards, something that’s recognised worldwide. Secondly, we’re a peaceful country, with a very low crime rate,” says Chris Exton of the University of Limerick, while detailing the “happiness quotient” of the country. “And, unlike other countries there are negligible instances of race-related violence,” he says.
“Ireland and India have a lot of things in common — apart from being under British rule,” chuckles Nicola Carroll of National College of Ireland. “British rule influenced us, and it shows in our graduate and postgraduate educational system too. It’s something we’ve seen international and Indian students associate with. As a culture too, the Irish are family-oriented, just like the Indians.”
The island nation already has around 5,000 Indian students pursuing graduate and postgraduate programmes. China, Japan, Poland and some of the newer inductees into the European Union like Romania are other countries whose youngsters regularly line up for an Irish degree. “Student populations are a mixed bag. Indian students don’t feel they are alone or left to themselves. For instance, our institution has an active international student body that helps students acclimatise and start enjoying the Irish experience,” says Nancy Kane of Cork Institute of Technology.
On top of this is the employment factor. For international graduate students — especially the ones pursuing popular subjects like IT, biotechnology, business administration, engineering et al — the job prospects are “slightly more” promising than ones pursuing humanities and the social sciences, claimed one Irish education executive. Moreover, all international students who pursue a graduation programme for more than six months leading up to a degree, get the right to stay on in Ireland for a further six months without a work visa.
“This policy helps us to keep the top-drawer talent that comes to study here,” says Fiona Rodgers of University College, Dublin. But in rare cases, when students aren’t able to land the right breaks, they are able to capitalise on their education elsewhere as most Irish university degrees are internationally recognised. Many Irish universities and educational institutions also have in-house departments and counsellors that aid students in preparing themselves for the Irish job market.
After having found an appropriate job, Indian /international students have to apply for a work visa through their current employers. When they are able to clock an annual income of 30,000 euros, while on the work visa, international students — now full-time employees in Ireland — can apply for Irish residency. It’s somewhat similar to the green card system in America, where you get most of the benefits of local citizens apart from voting and other rights. It’s the first step towards full-scale citizenship.
In terms of funding, many Irish universities do have in-house awards, studentships and assistantships, but these pale in comparison to the type of competitive scholarships doled out by, say, the British Council for students going to the UK. However, John Lynch of Education Ireland underscores the increase in the quantum of funding for international students. “Funding and scholarships are dependent on the field, academic credentials of the student and number of students applying. And let’s not forget that the number of international students applying to Ireland is growing steadily only now. With that increase we will see the number of scholarships and awards shoot up. But, roughly, Irish universities have been able to provide studentships and assistantships on a regular basis.”
Costwise, though, Irish education doesn’t seem to be any less expensive than that in the US, Australia or Canada. But it sure seems to have its advantages. “I’ve been scouting to find out what would be the best option for an MBA programme abroad. And in comparison to the US or Australia, Ireland seems better, mainly because of the job prospects,” says Vivek Ahuja a young MNC executive, and recent commerce graduate from Delhi University. “I have a couple of friends who are working in Ireland after studying there. They say it isn’t a rat-race like America or the UK,” says Aarti Pradhan an IT professional with an MNC in Gurgaon. And for some, it’s the sheer exotica of the country. “I find America or Australia one-dimensional. And considering the cost, job prospects and cultural prospects, Ireland seems really cool,” says Atul Thakur, a Nestle executive.