Ronan Lyons | Personal Website
Ronan Lyons | Personal Website

Overcoming our shyness, or how education could be a €4bn export business

  • Observer ,

    • Ronan Lyons ,

      Thanks for that, Observer – FG policy seems strong on tactics/institutional arrangements, which wouldn’t be my focus.

      • Brian J Goggin ,

        Something strong on tactics would be an improvement on the governmental aspirations. I remember efforts at increasing numbers of overseas students back in the late 1980s; a quick glance at the Irish Times archive shows that the proposal to increase numbers comes up every few years. At least one university has recently changed its terms to suit potential American students so that they could complete a one-term visit and be home by Christmas. But what’s not clear is whether overseas students want to be slotted in on existing courses, designed for Irish students, or whether they need products designed specifically to meet their needs.


        • Antoin O Lachtnain ,

          I think this is a great concept, and there are major opportunities.

          However, one thing that has to happen is that the professionalism of operations in education has to be better when you are charging people ten grand a spin. i am not talking so much about the core ‘product’ as all the things around rooms, organization, cleanliness, etc.

          • Imogen Bertin ,

            Not to detract from the main very good thrust of this article, but just a point of information. The CSO has had a statistician on secondment to the Department of Education and Science for a few years now. If you look at the increasingly improved presentation of the DES statistics you can see Nicola Tickner’s excellent work.

            • Ronan Lyons ,

              Hi Imogen,
              Thanks for that excellent piece of institutional knowledge – my hopes for future stats on education exports have risen!

              Hi Antoin,
              Certainly, one of the aspects I didn’t mention is product quality but only because it almost goes without saying that this has to be good (and respond to customer feedback) for this to be deliverable. No harm raising it!

              • Richard Tol ,

                There is an opportunity here. The main issue, however, is that lack of entrepreneurship in the universities. Last week’s report is a good example. Why does the national government publish a report about this? Why don’t the universities just go out and do it?

                • Ronan Lyons ,

                  I won’t make too many excuses for them, but I will say it must be in part to do with being answerable to the Dept of Education (which had upper limits, not lower limits on foreign students until last week) and, related to this, not being able to hire or raise money as they’d like (as per Brian Lucey’s point).

                  Which of course touches on a broader issue that Ireland will have to deal with. Do we want the Dept of Finance running a €70bn megalith in a €150bn economy, so that when it goes wrong, it goes spectacularly wrong? Or would we prefer 70-100 large public service organisations with average budgets of €500m-€1bn, each having responsibility for budgets, understanding what value they add in society? (Hmm, I’ve probably loaded that choice a little…)

                  • Cowen aims to create 300,000 jobs. Will ceate new super quango - Page 5 ,

                    […] […]

                    • Mike ,

                      Great piece Ronan! There are three major blockages to increasing international student numbers: (1) Departmental mind-set: Education has a policy of restricting numbers of international students and a maximum quota within each institution! (2) Attitude of Dept of Justice to visa requests (they block them, as the Fine Gael policy document shows!) and (3) the culture in our State funded Universities/Colleges to International students. They are seen as a ‘moneymaking’ option in bad times and the students very quickly realise that! The Economist had an article on this also a few weeks back:
                      The Fine Gael Policy document has a lot of merits, but the ambition is modest! €5b to €7b should be the target!

                      • laura ,

                        It all looks nice on paper, but there are 2 problems:

                        1. standards are hugely inconsistent in the “private sector” of education (refer to Fas subcontractors – if standards were non existent at this level how much worse can they be at direct provision level?) Value for money is difficult to assess and using the state funded 3rd level sector would deny access to Irish students who really need it

                        2. There is considerable levels of anecdotal evidence that language study and privately provided “3rd level” courses of dubious quality are heavily used as a back door to gaining a visa for those who otherwise would be unable to attain one. My father has worked for some years as a security man and almost all of the non EC staff are so-called “international students” who are in fact working part time and sending the shekels home. This is evidence that far from the mythical “rich yank” the government thinks its attracting, in fact it is attracting low waged, low educated international migrants who cannot access the Irish workforce via the normal visa system (whether this is good or bad is a separate issue).

                        The only segment of the Irish 3rd level sector with bona fide students and proven high international standards is the regular publicly funded state system. But bringing in international students would deny places to Irish students – it would effectively generate a situation anamolous to the two-tier healthcare system where Irish students would be bumped out by wealthy international students and dumped onto alternative courses.

                        There are only 3 ways to stop this:
                        1. Certify private providers to EC standards (using existing frameworks) and regularly scrutinise the providers
                        2. Insist that state funded providers do not allocate places away from Irish students – international students must be 100% funded by their own fees if this is to succeed
                        3. Lock such students entirely out of the workforce and demand a considerable level of cash on deposit (like you require if you apply for a Canadian or Aussie visa) as evidence of ability to self-support. Visas given to such students must absolutely be refused work permits under all circumstances – otherwise the scheme will not work

                        • Ronan Lyons ,

                          Hi Laura,
                          Thanks – this post deliberately didn’t touch issues of quality, as I’m not an expert in that area, but I would wholeheartedly agree that without the quality, this would come to nothing. I notice you left out in your comment institutions like RCSI, which are private but of very high quality and attract plenty of top-notch international students. I understand that RCSI is very optimistic about what it could do, if allowed to by the Dept of Education, in terms of promoting education as an export.

                          Also, as the employment boost at the bottom suggests, this would not be squeezing out Irish students. It would be expanding the capacity of the education system.

                          • taipeir ,

                            As somebody who lives in Taiwan it’s always been a mystery why Ireland is the only major true native English speaking nation not to capitalise on the education industry for foreign students…just goes to show how backwards thinking the people running the show are when they are still focused on getting a few more American students instead of the millions of potential students from Asia!

                            • Eleven reasons to be cheerful | Ronan Lyons ,

                              […] in the year, I mentioned the huge potential for Ireland in education as an export. I identified a €4bn export opportunity for Ireland, in terms of physically bringing students […]

                              • Three labour market trends Ireland can’t ignore | Ronan Lyons ,

                                […] each of which could create somewhere in the region of 10,000 jobs – much as I did with education as an export last year. Real domestic recovery will come when a number of these types of plans are put into […]

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