Stop treating international students as cash cows

Cash cow: a business, investment, or product that provides a steady income or profit. Irish universities have long sought high tuition fees from international students. But the commercialisation of higher education, along with financial pressures as a result of state cutbacks, has resulted in the financial burden placed on international students increasing.

College’s rhetoric of internationalisation belies the cold, monetary terms that drive its international recruitment agenda.  In recently increasing non-EU tuition fees by 6%, it has undermined any claims to a merit-based globalisation strategy, opting instead to prioritise a commercial model that frames the recruitment of international students as a lucrative industry.

To justify further increases in international fees as providing much-needed revenue is to accept a neoliberal model for universities.  A standard feature of this increasingly popular model is to transfer costs to students and untenured staff – and in in the process lessen the need to adhere to legislation relating to issues such as hiring and remuneration. If third-level education is a public good, financial challenges should instead be cause to argue for increased state investment.

Take Venezuela and Cuba, whose 2004 pact, the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA), has provided free university education, particularly medical training, to students from third-world countries, as well as US students from poor backgrounds. While many foreign students in Cuba are from Central and South America, the Caribbean and Africa,  the country’s higher education system also attracts Hispanic and African-American students from the US who cannot afford the fees of private medical schools at home. Students attending Cuba’s Latin American Medical School (ELAM), the largest medical school in the world by enrolment, receive free tuition, accommodation, meals, textbooks, and a small monthly allowance.

The Cuban and Venezuelan approach to international students contrasts markedly with internationalisation in universities like our own, where students are viewed as cash cows, useful above all for bringing in large chunks of funding in the form of ever-increasing tuition fees.  Education is a human right, and should not be linked to wealth or nationality. There is another way.

Catherine Healy

Editor of Trinity News. Interested in politics, history and all forms of media.