Following the introduction of stringent visa regulations by top study abroad destinations (US, UK and Australia), Indian students are now setting their sights on countries like Ireland.
Apart from being a beautiful, friendly country to live and offering world-class education, the country also offers an 'easy corridor' for entry into the neighbouring United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. This has been made possible by Ireland's study structure where a foreign student can do part of his/her studies in Ireland and the rest in another country of his/her choice under the credit transfer programmes offered by many Irish universities/colleges.
"Buoyed by a desire to make a splash in a foreign land, some of our students are currently opting for world-class Irish universities and colleges where they can spend a year or so and then move on to their ultimate study destination," says Amit Kakkar, managing director of Healthyway Immigration Consultant, a leading study abroad government-approved company of Chandigarh.
Slow visa file clearance by the Irish Embassy in New Delhi, however, is a cause for concern for education consultants like Kakkar who maintains that Indian students sometimes run out of patience. "Despite that, an Irish student visa is worth the wait considering its long-term benefits for those who want to join top universities in other countries," he added.
In an interview Lavina Collins, deputy chief of mission at the Irish Embassy, discusses the various facets of education in Ireland where, interestingly, nearly 40 per cent of the population is under the age of twenty-five.
"Students from India, including from the Punjab, that choose to go to Ireland for study, do so on the basis of the high quality educational product offered in Ireland, and on the basis of the positive feedback of Indian students returning to this country having benefited from an Irish education. We do not have this figure to hand, but applications from the Punjab region are received on a regular basis, with genuine applicants receiving their visas in a timely and efficient manner," the diplomat said during the course of the interview.
Excerpts of the interview with RMS Atwal:
How would you rate Ireland as a study destination from an Indian student's perspective?
Ireland has one of the highest education participation rates in the world today. The country's long-standing tradition of providing exceptional education began in Europe during the Middle Ages and during the past two centuries many Irish schools were established in India and elsewhere. Ireland has one of the best education systems in the world according to the independent IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2009 (ranks 8th).
The quality of the Irish education system is a major contributing factor to the rapid rate of economic growth this island nation has experienced over the last few decades. The country is recognised as an international location for high-quality scientific research too. No wonder, the number of international students visiting Ireland is increasing each year.
How easy or difficult is to get a student visa for Ireland? Don't you think the country is being used as a corridor for entry to the UK or US?
The requirements for application for a student visa for Ireland are set out in detail on the website of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS): www.inis.gov.ie
Each application is examined and determined on an individual basis. We are continually updating and tightening our visa regulations to protect the student who genuinely wants to study and enjoy the experience that studying in Ireland has to offer...
We are not aware that Indian students use Ireland as an easy way of gaining entry to the UK or US. An Irish student visa is issued for a specific period of study in Ireland. On completion of their studies in Ireland, students can, of course, apply for a student visa to the UK or the US authorities, to further their studies, if they so wish.
How safe is Ireland for Indian students?
Ireland has a reputation for being a safe and welcoming country to live in and is ranked 12th in the 2009 Global Peace Index. 'Lonely Planet' has voted it as the friendliest country in the world (2008 and 2010). Irish people are among the most enriching reasons to study in Ireland. We are renowned for our friendliness and hospitality which greatly contributes to the ease with which overseas students adapt to student life in Ireland. We are naturally curious and genuinely interested in others. A strong sense of community abounds everywhere in the country.
What about job opportunities for overseas students?
Indian students who have opted to do their higher studies in Ireland have invariably found their stay very academically rewarding and, on a personal level, a most congenial, interesting and worthwhile experience. Students from abroad are entitled to work part-time while in Ireland.
On completion of their higher studies, students from India may stay on in Ireland for six months to allow them time, should they so wish, to seek employment and apply for a work permit.
Traditionally, Ireland's strong English language base has always attracted overseas students. What exactly is it?
Ireland has a well-founded reputation for the excellent quality of its English language services. The quality assurance body for the sector in Ireland is the Advisory Council for English Language Schools (ACELS) which administers an inspection scheme, leading to recognition by the Department of Education and Science.
A full list of the over 110 quality-assured and recognised schools and organisations (ELTOS) is available on the ACELS website. These offer a wide variety of courses and generally provide a full package of tuition, accommodation and extra-curricular activities.
English language training can also be combined with sporting activities such as angling, golf or tennis. The English language sector is supported in its promotional activities by Failte Ireland.
Can students go to Ireland without passing the IELTS?
The Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service sets minimum entry requirements for English. Most colleges and universities set higher standards for admission to a course. We recommend IELTS, but also accept TOEFL, Cambridge and ETAPP test results.
How do you see Ireland as a study destination five years down the line?
Ireland will continue to be a centre of excellence for education and over the next few years we hope to see more Indians experiencing and enjoying what Ireland has to offer. There will be a far greater number of educational exchanges between Indian and Irish universities and a greatly enhanced level of cooperation in the area of science and technology.
RMS Atwal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustration: Rediff Archives