Irish universities have launched a push to recruit Chinese students after Brexit left it as the European Union’s only English-speaking destination for international learners.
Immigration authorities made a concession earlier this year to grant postgraduate work allowances to those studying remotely overseas, considered a perk in a country which houses the European headquarters of countries like Europe.
And last month Trinity College Dublin became the first Irish institution to join the China Excellence Identification Scheme, which allows select school students to take an Aptitude Scholastic Test (AST). With the AST, they can apply directly to some overseas institutions without either the gao kao, the Chinese national college entrance exam, or global qualifications like International Baccalaureate.
“The attractions of Ireland’s top universities and the culture of Ireland deserve to be better understood by students in China,” said Sean Wuhua Zhang, president of the Ambright Institute of Educational and Scientific Research, the non-profit non-governmental organisation in Shanghai that first developed the AST.
Chinese applications to Trinity have already increased by tenfold since 2014, the first year the institution placed staff in China. Over that same period, the number of Chinese students increased by fivefold. Now Trinity will be tripling its presence in China and expanding to cities outside of Beijing.
“We hope to further increase our number of undergraduate students from China, especially in science,” Juliette Hussey, Trinity’s vice-president for global relations, told Times Higher Education.
In 2017-18, Ireland hosted almost 23,000 foreign students who were studying full-time at the tertiary level, or about 12 per cent of its total student body. The top sending countries were the US, China, India, Canada and Malaysia. The number of students from China alone has doubled since 2014.
Interest has stayed consistent since then. “Student applications from many international countries to Ireland have continued to be strong since Brexit,” Professor Hussey said.
After the UK’s departure from the EU, the only other officially Anglophone country in the bloc is Malta.
Douglas Proctor, director of UCD Global at University College Dublin, told THE that “Ireland has been getting ready for Brexit for about four years, and looking at students from China, Southeast Asia, India and North America”.
He said that the country of 5 million, home to seven research universities, hoped to punch above its weight.
“The Irish HE sector is small; Ireland is small. And Irish universities have slipped under the radar,” he said. “But people should be talking about Ireland. Brexit has given a real opportunity to Irish universities as the only major English-speaking destination in the EU. It has given us an opportunity to reposition.”
UCD has been actively growing its ties with China. It confirmed its commitment to its Confucius Institute this year. It has also had a joint international college in China since 2012, and announced two more in last year.
For most Asian students and their parents, the main concern is safety during the Covid pandemic, a worry that Irish universities are addressing by promising services like airport transport, quarantine meal delivery and mental health support.
The Irish Covid response, which resulted in a total death toll of under 5,000, was considered a success in Europe.
“Ireland took measures from the start of the pandemic to ensure the best possible support for our international student population,” Professor Hussey said. By this autumn, universities hope to offer “as much in-person teaching and activities as possible”, she added.