By Erin Dyer
As an American, I am familiar with cringe-inducing pricetags on higher education. A common assumption is that that international students are getting tremendous value for money by coming to Ireland. At €12,000 per year for tuition alone, my doctoral programme is marginally less expensive than my undergraduate tuition. In reality the three-year PhD has cost me five times the cost of my four-year undergraduate degree, in part because of international travel and the high cost of living, but also because I did not enjoy the wide variety of grants and scholarships that made my alma mater affordable. That being said, I made a conscious decision to come to Ireland for my PhD, and rejected two successful offers in the UK.
International students, particularly non-EEA students, are of tremendous monetary value when we have made the choice to come to Trinity and to Ireland. As consumers investing in a very costly product, we should clearly see the benefit of our choice in terms of the quality of teaching, services provided, and social life. For me, most of those boxes have been ticked, but this is not the case for all students. Trinity can positively affect the relationship between the university and incoming international students through three goals.
First, College should provide a thorough pre- and post-arrival orientation for students. Coming from abroad, the experience of navigating one’s way around a new university is confusing enough before considering accommodation options,the madness of registration (at College and the Garda National Immigration Bureau, or GNIB), and the initial isolation upon arrival. My suggestions include a meet-and-greet option at the airport, pre-term orientation for students, student mentors, and streamlined registration. Much of this duty has fallen on the GSU and SU, and College needs to take greater responsibility.
Second, College needs to provide significant immigration support. The GNIB is an exhausting, daunting and frustrating experience. Further support is needed in assisting students with acquiring documentation for the GNIB and in coordinating efforts to escort students. The International Office has started to provide escorted trips to the GNIB, but these were late in term and low in available spaces.
Third, College needs to focus on the benefit received by cross-cultural exchange. Too often, the focus is on the cost-benefit of international students without regard to their cultural benefit to the university. College should support efforts by students and societies to celebrate the uniqueness of international students, in tandem with clubs, societies, the Chaplaincy and departments.
Trinity cannot compete with the facilities and services available when all students pay hefty tuition, and clearly not in this hard economic climate. But to ensure that international students feel as if they get what they paid for, College needs to do its part to support and welcome international students as more than simply than cash cows.