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From Melbourne, Australia’s Knowledge Capital, to Destination Dublin

Can Melbourne’s dual strategies of knowledge-city development and international student focus be achieved in Dublin?

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Author - Claire Doran


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4.2 International student focus

Ireland has come late to international education and, as such, does not yet have a high international HE profile (OECD 2006). A selection of statistics from Melbourne/Victoria and Dublin/Ireland provides a startling comparison.

  • Metropolitan Melbourne’s population of 3,800,000 is marginally less than the Republic of Ireland’s 4,235,000.
  • The area’s HE population is c.1.5 times greater than that of the Republic of Ireland (MVCF 2007: 21; Higher Education Authority [HEA] 2009: 65).
  • Melbourne has the third-largest international student population after London and New York (Lillington 2009).
  • In 2005, Melbourne’s eight universities enrolled 48,600 international students (MVCF 2007). In 2008, this number was 57,251 (Study Melbourne). The total number for the Republic of Ireland in 2007/08 was 12,353 (HEA 2009).
  • In 2005, Melbourne’s international students contributed $685m (€381m) in fees and over $1.4bn (€778m) in expenditure on food, accommodation, etc. (MVCF 2007). In the Republic of Ireland in 2006/07, these figures were €164m and €208m, respectively (IEBI 2009).
  • In 2008, education services, valued at $4.4bn (€2.4bn) were the number one export in Victoria (AEI 2008; Study Melbourne). Education is not included in Ireland’s top exports.

It is evident that Melbourne’s international education sector significantly outperforms Ireland’s. Given the magnitude of the differences outlined above, it may seem unrealistic for Dublin to emulate Melbourne’s success. However, Melbourne almost doubled its total international student numbers between 2005 and 2008 (incl. HE, VET, Technical and Further Education, English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students) (OKC website). Dublin could potentially learn a lot from Melbourne’s experience.

As proximity is a major factor in choosing a host country (Access Economics 2009), it is not surprising to learn that Melbourne’s international students come pre-dominantly from Australia’s south-east Asian neighbours. In 2008, the top 10 source countries were China, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Thailand and Pakistan (Study Melbourne).

Melbourne’s success in attracting international students can be attributed to a number of factors, including the recent weakening of the Australian dollar, its proximity to south-east Asia and strong tradition of recruiting students from this area, its being perceived as a safe city with a high standard of living, recognition by the region’s stakeholders of the need for collaboration to ensure the city remains competitive, as well as the establishment of the OKC, and the City of Melbourne’s dedicated resources for international students (OKC 2009a). Melbourne’s universities also enjoy a world-class reputation, as evidenced by the ranking of two of the OKC partner universities in the top 50 of the Times Higher Education Rankings 2008 – University of Melbourne (38) and Monash University (47).

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