One of the Republic of Ireland’s leading private providers has launched a scheme that could allow British students to study there for free.
With about 7,000 students, Griffith College is the most prominent private higher education institution in the country alongside Dublin Business School, now owned by US multinational Kaplan.
Set up in 1974 by Diarmuid Hegarty, who is still president after close to 40 years, to provide business and accountancy training, Griffith has been able to confer degrees since 1990. It now has faculties of business, computing science, design, journalism and media communications, law and education, as well as schools of accountancy and music and drama.
Michael McNamara, part of the UK admissions team for the college, described it as both the only state-approved independent institution recognised under Bologna and “a university in all but name” (although it does not yet accept PhD students).
He added that it “has never got a cent from the government”, with the exception of courses laid on under the state’s Springboard scheme, designed to get unemployed people into work.
“Irish students have voted with their feet over the past 40 years - even when higher education was free here,” he said.
The UK’s new fees and funding regime, together with the steady increase of what used to be a nominal “registration fee” in Ireland (set at €2,500 - about £2,120 - for 2013-14), has improved the college’s competitive position and should lead to more applications, Mr McNamara added.
But to encourage this even further, Griffith has set up a Student Exchange Initiative. International students’ accommodation will now be included in their basic fees - and any family willing to offer such accommodation can benefit from a full fee waiver for a relation.
The scheme is open to Irish students, but there are also 100 places available for students from Northern Ireland and 100 more for students from the rest of Britain who have relatives with suitable homes in Cork, Limerick or the Greater Dublin area and are willing and able to put up foreign students.
It represents a significant attempt to target a largely untapped market.
Although about 20 per cent of Griffith’s yearly intake of 1,800 students are non-Irish, very few are British, with Northern Irish school-leavers more likely to look east rather than south for their higher education. The administrative measures, including plans to approve potential accommodation, have been put in place to cater for a possible total of 300 students in the 2013-14 academic year.
Although Griffith currently offers many scholarships to Irish students, Mr McNamara said that the new initiative could prove “very attractive in financial, cultural and educational terms” to their foreign peers.
“As well as assisting families to fund their child’s higher education, we see it as helping families understand the diversity that exists between different cultures. We also like the idea of a Japanese or Chinese student, say, joining an Irish family and having a language swap - with them learning English and the family learning their language,” he said.