LIMERICK’s third level colleges could be set for an influx of more than 1000 extra students per year from China, according to a high level Chinese official who is visiting the city this week.
In return, plans are to be put in place to help local businesses benefit from a high-tech employment base of more than 800,000 people in the eastern-Chinese city of Nanjing.
Song Lu, the deputy secretary general at the Nanjing Municipal Government, has also spoken of his plans to replicate the Shannon Free Zone in the east, and also to persuade Limerick students to study in the city, which has a population of over eight million.
A 12-strong delegation from Nanjing is in Limerick this week to learn more about the resources in the city and its surrounds.
The link was established by former mayor, Cllr Jim Long, who brought together the city’s top business minds to set up the Limerick/Shannon-China foundation.
The group has been at Shannon Airport, and received presentations on the potential for a deep-sea port on the Shannon Estuary, as well as learning of the city’s potential.
Mr Lu said Limerick is the second most-well known city in Ireland among locals in Nanjing.
With 50 universities in the city itself, he hopes “a minimum” of 1,000 students come to study at LIT, UL, and Mary Immaculate College in the coming years, giving the local economy a shot in the arm. As well as this, he expects to see middle school students, aged between 11 and 15, come to Limerick in the holidays. To this end, he has met UL’s financial director John Field.
“One possibility is that students study in Limerick. Another possibility is there is an exchange: I send students to you, you send students to me. The third possibility, also important, is that middle school students in the holidays, could travel to Ireland,” Mr Lu said through a translator.
China is home to Huawei Technologies, the largest global telecommunications equipment maker.
In Nanjing, it employs 10,000 people in a research and development centre. It is hoped to harness this expertise in Limerick, Mr Lu said.
“I think the important thing is that there are talented persons here. China has a very big market: it would be a very good situation if Limerick companies can take their best talent to Nanjing and do business there,” he said, suggesting a delegation of business interests headed east.
The deputy secretary general revealed the delegation had looked at the Port of Hamburg, the third largest in Europe for trade.
But the offering on the Shannon Estuary, and in the free zone near the airport outflanks the German proposal, he said.
The Chinese central government has just given approval to Nanjing for its own economic zone.
It is anticipated this be modelled on the Shannon Free Zone.
“I think the situation in Shannon suits our plan, for our free zone. Today’s Shannon is the tomorrow of Nanjing: Shannon is very suitable to learn from,” Mr Lu concluded.
The delegation are to visit the area again in May to explore the links further.
DCU professor Cathal M Brugha, helping the bid, has previously said the link could see thousands of jobs created.