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Giles O’Neill

Interview: Giles O’Neill, Head, Education in Ireland

November 11, 2021

With 90 percent of Ireland’s adult population fully vaccinated, the Ireland government has been able to lift the COVID-related restrictions. Educational campuses in Ireland are welcoming back their national and international students. Education in Ireland, a Government of Ireland brand under the authority of the Minister for Education and Skills, hosted a virtual education showcase for Indian and Sri Lankan students on October 23. The virtual showcase was one-stop destination for attendees to learn more about Ireland as well as have their concerns about higher education in Ireland addressed directly by representatives from Irish higher education institutions and the Visa office officials too. Giles O’Neill, headEducation in Ireland tells Dipta Joshi about the Ireland government’s ‘Back-to-Campus’ plan for higher education institutions and the outcome of the recent virtual event.

Q) How attractive is Ireland as a study destination?

A)  Studying in Ireland is considered an affordable option compared to other study destinations like the US or United Kingdom. Ireland is one of the few countries that has effectively opened up its borders to its international students. The country also continues to offer graduates a diverse range of post study work prospects despite the pandemic. Ireland has emerged in the past decade as truly diverse and multi-cultural- in its learning environment and beyond.

Over 35,000 students come to Ireland from 160 countries around the world. We are keen to encourage this growing community and have several measures in place. One such is the Irish Third Level Graduate Scheme which allows non-EU students to stay behind for two years at the master’s level and one year at the undergraduate level to seek job prospects.

Q) Please elaborate on the precautions taken by the Irish government for international students?

A) Ireland’s vaccination campaign has resulted in over 90 percent of our adult population being completely vaccinated as of now. This has enabled the Irish government to gradually relax COVID-19 limitations that were in place since last year and welcome back its international students to a more normal and open environment. With the government removing India from the list of ‘designated states’ (since August 27) all quarantine restrictions for arriving students from India have been eliminated. In another positive move, short-stay visa processing for India has been reopened, which will allow family members to visit students in Ireland. Once students arrive in Ireland, Irish higher education institutes will ensure that safety protocols are followed for their arrival and through their stay in Ireland.

Q) How quickly did institutions in Ireland adopt virtual teaching-learning during the pandemic?

A) Ireland’s government promptly responded to the COVID-19 outbreak last year by providing healthcare assistance to overseas students. It even provided a weekly compensation to those who lost their part-time jobs as a result of the epidemic. Educational intuitions swiftly adapted to online teaching so that student’s health and well-being was looked after. Besides classes, all other activities were also brought online including events, fitness sessions and mental health resources. A year later, we are gradually returning to the pre-pandemic teaching mode.

Q) What is the ‘Back-to-Campus’ plan for students?

A) The Irish government launched its ‘Back-to-Campus’ plan for higher education institutions to open their doors for both national and international students. On arriving in Ireland, students have been availing of a ‘greet and transfer’ service at the airport. Student safety and well-being is certainly prioritised at our higher educational institutions. At a national level, Ireland has cut down on almost all of its COVID-19 restrictions since October 22nd and measures such as the usage of masks may only be required in specific situations, such as public transportation and medical facilities. Pop-up testing centres will continue to function on college and university campuses.

Q) Will students have the option of online classes too?

A) The vast majority of programmes across the higher education sector in Ireland have now returned to face-to-face teaching with the exception of large lectures, which remain online. However, while there may be some flexibility around the arrival of international students, it is essential that all students, both Irish and international, are present on campus.

Q) What is the purpose of the virtual fair and what was the response to the recent virtual fair held on October 23?

A) The Education in Ireland virtual showcase – one of our largest student events of the year,  is a wonderful opportunity for students and parents to meet with and have their queries answered directly by representatives from 20 of Ireland’s leading higher education institutions and the Visa Office officials. The showcase includes a series of informative seminars on popular sectors in Ireland, such as data science, artificial intelligence, pharmacy, hospitality, and medicine. Students also benefit from engaging in virtual meeting rooms where they are able to chat with the admissions teams and visa officials through video or chat. 

This year the fair witnessed over 3,000 registrations for the event and captured over 1,500 chat-based interactions between students and Irish representatives. There was heightened interest in courses like engineering, business, data science, computer science, at the same time programmes such as veterinary studies, dentistry, psychology, social work, information systems, biopharmaceutics engineering, hospitality and instructional design also seemed to be in high demand. Education in Ireland is planning to return with a pan-India physical fair early next year.

Also read: Education in Ireland hosts ‘Meet the Academic’ session

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