Ronald Wafula wakes up before dawn. He’s using the quiet time to get some studying done before embarking on the two-hour, 40-minute bus ride to college. Originally from Kenya, Avola is one of about 21,000 international students studying in Ireland, many of whom suffer.
He was delighted when he was awarded a research scholarship for PhD in Finance from University College Dublin (UCD) in September 2020. Looking back, he was not prepared for the challenges ahead. He says every day is a struggle to make ends meet.
His first year of school was online due to Covid restrictions. After securing temporary accommodation, it took him over 10 months to find suitable accommodation for his family to come to Ireland. He now lives with his wife – who is not allowed to work under her visa – and one of his children in Ratangan, Ko Kildare, while the other child resides in Kenya.
The Irish are hard to break into [accommodation] Wafula says. “They want to see a payment slip before having a conversation with you.”
Wafula receives a monthly stipend of 1,500 euros. He worked as a teacher at the university, but his Stamp 2 visa prevents him from working more than 20 hours each week. His hours are precarious and he doesn’t know if he will get any of them in the current semester.
Meanwhile, he’s quickly swallowing up his income with his monthly rent (1,100 euros), electricity (200 euros) and daily commuting (18 euros per day).
“It’s practically impossible to live any life,” he says. “It gets really hard to say you’re enjoying it.”
Wafula admits that he has struggled with mental health throughout his time here. “You have to put on a bold face, so your wife and kids don’t see it… I don’t enjoy the process, but maybe the result, which is to get my PhD and hopefully get a job,” he says.
Wafula wrote to University College Dublin’s president, Andrew Dix, in August, claiming that international doctoral students “suffer in silence” and face “systemic” discrimination during their time in Ireland.
In a statement, University College Dublin said international students receive an offer package indicating accommodation, cost of living and visa advice. While the college generally has enough on-campus places for international students, it said it does not currently have family housing.
The university said that doctoral candidates have student status and are considered under full-time instruction, while scholarship holders are exempt from taxes on their scholarship income.
Their spokesperson said they are not usually employees, and issues related to employment are controlled by the organization’s Department of Commerce and Employment.
The experiences of international students raise broader questions about Ireland’s policy to attract more and more students from abroad.
While their high fees help fill in the gaps in third-tier funding, many international students argue that they are not being treated fairly and are not adequately warned about the cost of living or the dearth of accommodation.
In Ireland, around 17,000 students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) pay between 10,000 and 20,000 euros for their courses, although in some cases the fee can be as high as 55,000 euros.
Most students from outside the European Economic Area come from the United States, China, India, Brazil, Canada, and Saudi Arabia. Irish students pay a student contribution fee of up to €3,000.
Bukky Adebowale, vice president for equality and citizenship at Student Union Ireland, says many international students feel they are being treated as if they are cash cows to support an underfunded tertiary system. “They just don’t feel heard,” Adepoel says.
Bhumi Mahda, who is studying for a master’s degree in computer science, is one of them. She was required to have 40,000 euros in her bank account before she could be accepted into the country. On top of her needing €25,600 for her tuition at University College Dublin, and after receiving some financial help from her parents, she took out a loan to fund the high cost of living in Ireland – but that still wasn’t enough.
After arriving from India with her sister Jill at the end of the summer, she is met with the stark reality of Ireland’s housing crisis. Although they call 20-30 places daily, they struggled to find permanent accommodation. The sisters spent a month in temporary housing and were “scared” that they had nowhere to go.
“we [were] Staying up late to study until 4 or 5 a.m. and getting up early every day to look for an apartment,” says Gill.
Less than 48 hours before leaving their temporary residence, with nowhere to go, they finally got a one-year lease agreement — but it didn’t come cheap. Bhumi, Jill and two friends now live near the Bielefeld Campus in Dublin 4 and pay €2,500 a month for a two-bedroom house or €625 to share a bedroom; Much more than budgeted.
The Irish Times has contacted all Irish universities to inquire whether they are providing warnings to foreigners about the housing crisis in Ireland prior to arrival. Many give general advice such as “book early” or tell students about “high demand” in the rental market. NUI Galway seems to go above and beyond most by offering virtual ‘meet and greet’ sessions and information sessions for international students. The university also said it was inviting the Threshold Housing Charitable Foundation to provide accommodation guidance for incoming foreigners.
USI’s Bukky Adebowale says that “the honest truth” must be presented to foreigners before coming to Ireland.
“There is an obligation [for universities] To be really candid about it and say, “Right now it’s really hard to find accommodation, so look early, or make sure you have a deposit, and anticipate the difficulties.”
Laura Harmon, executive director of the Irish Council of International Students, whose members have 30 institutions of higher education, says she doesn’t think colleges exploit students. She argues that universities are following the national strategy for the internationalization of education in Ireland.
But why aren’t students allowed to work more than 20 hours each week to cover their exorbitant costs? The Department of Justice, which issues their visas, maintains that the only reason students are in the state is to study. The department said it should ensure students can live on their own resources without relying on work.
bridging the gap
The move towards “internationalization” of higher education is a government policy. The strategy of the Ministry of Education in this field, due to its updating since 2020, aims to increase the economic output of these students from 819 million euros in 2014 to 1.15 billion euros by 2020 and to increase the production of the English language education sector by 200 euros. Million. This policy is paying off. The number of students from outside the European Economic Area has more than doubled since 2011.
Providing profitable international students has helped bridge the university’s finances in the years following the recession, and more recently during the pandemic.
The latest figures show that major Irish universities increased their student fee income in the first year of the pandemic at a time when most were limited to distance learning. No refunds have been given to international students; They are not entitled to a one-time payment of €250 from the government.
“Universities probably shouldn’t be making so much money at the expense of the people who pay,” Wafula says.
Higher Education Minister Simon Harris is expected to soon begin the long-awaited actions on the 2016 Cassells Report, which aims to address key funding issues in the sector. International students such as Wafula and Bhumi hope not to be left behind in the sector’s new vision.
International Students: By the Numbers
Estimated number of students from outside the European Economic Area studying in Ireland
1.15 billion euros
Estimated Economic Output Output of International Students
10000 – 20000 Euro
Tuition fees for most international students