Move to lure Irish diaspora back home

Taoiseach Brian Cowen introduced plans to lower third-level fees in Ireland for second- and third-generation Irish at a press conference in Washington last week. The “Ireland Homecoming Study Programme” is an attempt to generate €10 million for the Irish economy, by offering significantly discounted fees to attract descendants of the Irish diaspora. Eight institutes of technology are set to take part in the scheme.
At the moment non-EU students need to pay fees to study in Ireland, but this new scheme will offer discounts of up to 40% for the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Irish emigrants. The idea was first suggested during last year’s conference in Farmleigh, where Irish-Americans discussed the economic problems facing Ireland and possible solutions to these problems.
The programme is expected to attract over 500 students in the next three years and Mr. Cowen estimated it will contribute around €10 million to the Irish economy. The eight institutes offering the discounted fee of €5,950 include Athlone, Carlow, Cork and Waterford.
The creator of the programme, Brian McNamara, claimed the new system would allow the “global Irish” to attain affordable qualifications. “As a nation, we have long recognised the important role that the Irish diaspora or global Irish play in promoting Irish culture and trade,” he said. “This initiative will offer a practical benefit to the offspring of Irish people abroad by allowing their children obtain an exceptional Irish education at highly competitive rates.”
The Taoiseach’s announcement came as Fine Gael education spokesman Brian Hayes launched a comparable programme intended to encourage international students to come to Ireland. It is claimed the programme could create up to 6,000 new jobs in the education sector. Fine Gael claim thier plan will radically enhance standards and quality in third-level education by overhauling the quality assurance system currently in place. Suggestions made by ther proposal include automatic green cards for PhD students graduating into areas like engineering, a new student visa procedure, and the appointment of a Minister of State with direct responsibility for the third-level sector.
The Fine Gael move comes amid claims that Ireland is “punching below its weight” on international education. While various studies have pointed to the potential of the sector, there has been criticism that visa requirements and other restrictions are inhibiting growth.
At a news conference in Dublin, Brian Hayes said the Fine Gael party in government will provide the political leadership to develop Ireland’s reputation globally as a prime international education destination.