Emerald tiger seeks help

March 7, 1997

The Irish government is to invite tenders from colleges in the rest of the European Union to help meet emerging skill shortages in computing and languages.

It fears that Irish universities and other colleges may not be able to expand their intake quickly enough to meet the needs of multinationals setting up shop in Ireland.

The economy of the "Emerald Tiger", as Newsweek recently dubbed Ireland, is booming. Growth rates over recent years have been among the highest of members of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development.

Many of the top world names in electronics have located plants in Ireland and are recruiting extra staff.

The Irish universities are already committed to raising their intake of electronics and other computing students at degree level.

A government subcommittee recommended that 1,000 more graduates in these subjects were needed every year as well as another 750 graduates with language skills to service the equally rapidly expanding teleservices sector.

A group has been appointed to oversee the tendering process but the idea of seeking tenders abroad has prompted scepticism in the public sector universities and colleges.

Some believe that it is really an attempt to get the Irish colleges to provide the extra places cheaply while the private colleges say that they will be more than happy to take up the slack. There are also logistical problems.

There are already several thousand students from the Republic studying in Britain and Northern Ireland, many of them on computing and language courses.

If a United Kingdom college successfully tenders it would either have to establish a facility in Ireland or else create designated places for Irish students and charge the Irish government accordingly.

But it is not clear if the students who went out of the country would get assistance or how the government could ensure that they returned to work in Ireland once they graduated.

The main opposition party, Fianna Fail, has criticised the Government for keeping the university heads in the dark about its plans.

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