ATTRACTING more international students to Irish third level institutions is a “win-win” for all concerned, according to Philip Smyth, director of Shannon College of Hotel Management.
Mr Smyth was speaking as 91 students - the largest class in the college’s 60-year history - graduated, almost half of them having come from overseas to study.
The Government is working on a long-term strategy to double the number of international students in Ireland and is looking as relaxing visa restrictions for Chinese, Indians and students from the Middle East in particular.
Mr Smyth said the hotel management college - which remains in the ownership of Shannon Airport following separation from the DAA - was ahead of the curve in that 45% of this year’s graduates were international students, including from India and China.
And 13 of the 2013 crop are from the tropical paradise of the Seychelles, after its government agreed a deal with Shannon College “to exclusively educate the country’s hoteliers of tomorrow”.
According to Mr Smyth, every graduate of the college has gone on to employment and the institution’s global reach is illustrated through the jobs graduates have gone on to take up at the world’s top hotels.
This includes the Jumeriah Group - which operates the world’s only seven-star hotel, Dubai’s Burj Al Arab - whose executive chairman is Shannon graduate Gerard Lawless.
On the college’s increasingly inter-national profile, Mr Smyth commented: “There is huge opportunity in international education, for third-level institutions and also for the wider economy and what we have achieved here at the Shannon College is a really good example of that.
“Over 45% of our students are from outside Ireland, some from as far afield as China and India, which are huge potential markets for international education. We have a really good international reputation and that helps but we have had to get out, roll up our sleeves and sell ourselves very hard in these markets because that’s what required.
“We do have many advantages because of the standard of education we provide, the fact that we are an English-speaking nation, because Ireland is less expensive now to live than what it was, especially for students, and because we are smart in how we target them.
“But none of those qualities are exclusive to us. Every other third level institution can do likewise, whether it’s for engineering, technology, agri-food courses or whatever. The rules are the same for all. It’s not easy but with strategic targeting of key markets, combined with as much perspiration as inspiration, significant gains can be made in these markets,” he said.
For colleges, more international students would mean higher fees income and surrounding areas would benefit from students accommodation and living costs.
“Then you have the affinity that these students, many of whom will go on to become leaders in their respective fields, will have with Ireland for the rest of their lives and the benefits that could flow from this.
“You only need to go into local hotels in this area last night to see parents and friends checking in from across the globe for this graduation as one small example of the spin-off. It’s a win-win situation and one the third-level sector can really capitalise on,” Mr Smyth said.