Irish universities could face significant shortage of funds, as the Covid-19 pandemic threatens the enrolment of international students ahead of the new academic year.
With Leo Varadkar announcing the closure of all schools, colleges and public offices till 29 March, universities are preparing contingency plans for moving classes online and delaying the academic year to discourage international students from cancelling enrolment.
There are around 32,000 international students enrolled in Irish higher education, generating more than €200 million in revenue as tuition fees.
An Indecon report for the Irish Universities Association suggests that international students generate a further €120 million in non-fees expenditure.
While EU students pay the same as Irish students for both undergrad and postgrad courses, international students often pay twice the amount.
For example, fees for non-EU undergraduate students range between €10,000-€20,000 for students studying business, engineering and science, while they climb to between €40,000-€55,000 for those studying medicine.
Post-graduate non-EU students typically pay between €10,000 and €35,000.
Some universities and English-language schools are also concerned about possible reductions in the number of summer students learning English who typically live in on-campus accommodation between June and August.
The Irish Times reports that many students from Italy and Spain are holding off making bookings, or cancelling existing bookings.
It is estimated that more than 120,000 international English-language students attend language schools here, placing Ireland fifth place globally in terms of actual numbers of students per head of population.
Many current international students are heading back to their home countries to avoid possible border closures later.
In an email sent out by DCU International Office, students were advised “if feasible, to return to their home country.”
A second email clarified: “Teaching arrangements detailed on Loop will facilitate continued studies if [students] decide to travel home for the period over which face-to-face teaching remains suspended.”
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