The housing crisis and high CAO entry points are causing a slow but steady exodus of Irish students to EU countries where it is easier to take courses that are in high demand and where it is cheaper to live.
Young people are increasingly turning to European universities to continue their studies.
The Netherlands, Poland and Italy are the three most popular choices in the EU.
In Warsaw alone, for example, around 50 Irish students are studying veterinary medicine. Medicine is the most popular major for international students in the Netherlands.
However, Irish students are also enrolling in larger numbers in science, physiotherapy, psychology, business, international relations and a host of other programs in the EU, where academic entry requirements are not always as stringent as here.
The added attraction is the lower cost of accommodation. As Jim Miley, Director General of the Irish Universities Association, said: “You hear stories of students getting accommodation in Poland for €350 a month, while here it can cost three or four times as much.”
There are an estimated 4,000 Irish undergraduate and postgraduate students in other EU countries. Ironically, the numbers are rising for the EU while falling for the UK, which traditionally attracts a large number of applications from Ireland.
Eight years ago there were almost 11,000 Irish undergraduate and postgraduate students in the UK, but that number has now fallen below 10,000. The number includes many attending universities in the North.
The fact that so many Irish students are studying abroad or doing research at universities does not yet worry Irish universities unduly. They currently have many applicants for school leavers and there has been traffic from Ireland to UK universities for a long time.
But it’s the numbers looking at EU countries that should be a cause for concern, especially if the pattern becomes established.
The website of Ireland-based Eunicas, which advises students interested in studying abroad, says interest in EU universities is no longer limited to high-demand courses such as medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry or physiotherapy.
“It’s growing steadily for all types of courses,” said Guy Flouch, director of Eunicas.
The added fact that fees are generally lower than here helps.
Aside from the brain drain to Europe, Irish universities will also face a drop in applications for secondary school degrees as the demographic boom slows, according to a consultation document circulated by the Department for Further Education and Higher Education.
The CAO relies too much on the school-leaver path into higher education, adding: “While it can currently be successful in meeting the needs of many learners coming out of the secondary school system, it is not an optimal basis for sustainability.”
A single, predominant major will not be sufficient to meet the needs of a more diverse student body, as these increasingly come from different ‘starting points’.
In other words, the number of technical colleges will increase. The paper makes a strong case for much closer and deeper connections between further and higher education institutions.
This could lead to joint programs where students spend the first year of a course at a higher education institution and then transfer to a university or other higher education institution to complete their studies.
The consultation paper mentions other possibilities such as developing common approaches to capital planning, shared infrastructure and collocation options.
A joint review process of quality assurance for higher and continuing education is proposed, as are networked approaches to blended and online learning, apprenticeships, assessment practices, academic integrity and improving the reputation of qualifications.
We are still a long way from realizing many of the ambitions outlined in the document. But stronger links between secondary and higher education are needed if we are to achieve the government program’s goal of creating a world-class education system.
We must also end the inflated grading regime, proceed with Minister Norma Foley’s Leaving Cert reforms and resolve the student housing crisis.
Sisyphus, the mythical Greek king who kept pushing a huge boulder up a hill only for it to roll down, had it easier.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/cheaper-living-easier-access-to-courses-its-no-wonder-our-students-are-opting-for-foreign-colleges-so-a-shake-up-is-needed-41974339.html Cheaper living costs, easier access to courses – no wonder our students are choosing foreign universities, so restructuring is needed