Whilst the UK is in the process of turning students away, Ireland has stepped up efforts again this week to gain more of the international student market. Earlier in the week Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, travelled to India to promote higher-level education. On his way back from this trip the Minister paid a one-day visit on Wednesday to Saudi Arabia, Ireland’s most important trading partner in the Middle East.
The stopover came as the minister journeyed back to Ireland following a four-day Enterprise Ireland trade and education mission of 22 Irish companies to India.
Enterprise Ireland has promoted Irish higher education in Saudi Arabia since 2007. There are currently over 400 Saudis studying in the country’s higher education institutions and a similar number studying English in Ireland. The visit to the Kingdom was to support an education mission of 13 leading Irish universities and institutes of technology.
“The mission will also grant an excellent opportunity to promote the Irish international education sector, a key sector for jobs and growth in the economy,” said Bruton.
During his stay, Bruton formally launched the “Education in Ireland” brand in Saudi Arabia and met with Minister of Higher Education Khaled Al-Anqari, Minister of Commerce and Industry Abdullah Zainal Alireza and Ali Nasser Al-Ghafis, governor of the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation.
“Saudi Arabia is Ireland’s most important trading partner in the Middle East,” said Bruton in an interview with Arab News late Wednesday. “We’re keen to further develop this area for the mutual benefit of both Saudi Arabia and Ireland.”
Bruton, who took up his ministerial position in March, lauded Ireland’s strong educational institutions.
“Saudi Arabia is planning to invest in education as part of its economic development, and one of the success stories in Ireland has been its success in education,” he pointed out.
“Moreover, many companies attached to our education institutions expanded from incubation companies to become successful,” he added.
This direct link between the commercial world and academia is a main strategy at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.
“I think that this is the model that Saudi Arabia wants to pursue and they see this as an economic development tool,” he said.
Bruton said the Irish experience in technological education bridges the gap between the output of the education system and the needs of a developing economy.
“We have been able to bring the experience of the multinationals and small businesses into active participation in our education sector, and it has sharpened its focus to make it more commercially oriented,” he said.
“Both the minister of commerce and the minister of higher education saw investment in education as a vital tool for the future, and I think our model is one really well attuned to their needs.”
Bruton said the pace at which the Kingdom is developing was “breathtaking” and that this offers opportunities for mutual gain.
The Irish educational system places a high value on institutes of vocational training to such a degree that they have become a separate tier of the system — one that focuses on commercially oriented curricula.
“They are playing at a very high level technically and I think that is something that Saudi Arabia wants to plug into,” he said.
“The Technical and Vocational Training Corporation here is planning to treble its output by partnering and at a certain level of education they buy into an experience that can allow rapid growth with a steadying experience.”
In the long term, Bruton said he hoped to see increasing exchanges between the two countries.
“I think the key to the success for Saudi Arabia is to produce people who are all job-ready and have picked up commercial experience and entrepreneurship as well as the straightforward educational content.”
Bruton returned homeward via London in the early hours of Thursday morning after what he described as “a very busy week.”