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Ireland: Expanding abroad, contracting at home?

Late November brought the announcement of a new initiative designed to expand higher education linkages between Ireland and the Canadian province of Ontario. The innovative “system to system” agreement, signed by the Institutes of Technology Ireland (IOTI) and Colleges Ontario, is designed to facilitate the movement of up to 1 000 Canadian students into IOTI institutions beginning in September 2012, for the purpose of completing degree programmes begun in Canada. Students in the first wave into Ireland are expected to focus on studies in the areas of business, electronics engineering and hospitality, with more programme areas to be added in the coming months. Meanwhile, IOTI students will have the opportunity to complete graduate certificate programmes at Ontario’s 24 colleges of applied arts and technology.

The arrangement is being hailed on both sides as a win-win situation. Colleges Ontario cites the advantages of “tremendous mobility and flexibility” for its students. In addition, the Canadian students are expected to see a drop of some 15% in their tuition rates in Ireland as compared to what they would pay in Ontario. Meanwhile, the Irish counterparts are touting potential earnings of up to EUR 7 million in tuition fees via the Canadian students’ enrolment in Ireland.

Generating revenue is critically important in the current climate in Ireland. Declining public investment in higher education, reduced staff numbers (as a result of financial consolidation) and rising demand for places in tertiary education are key factors pushing the system to a potential breaking point, at least in terms of quality. This is the perspective of a report released last month by the country’s Higher Education Authority. Sustainability Study. Aligning Participation, Quality and Funding in Irish Higher Education warns that the Irish higher education system may soon face a period of “consolidation” after a long stretch of enrolment growth. This scenario would clearly not be conducive to achieving the country’s goal of facilitating economic recovery through – among other things – the supply of skilled workers. Four short-term recommendations are suggested, including raising the level of student contributions in the event of further declines in public funding for higher education. For the longer-term, suggestions include leveraging technology to expand educational provision, a greater role for private higher education and, again, increasing student contributions.

Institutes of Technology Ireland Colleges Ontario Ireland Higher Education Authority