The Opportunities for Medical Education Internationalisation in the Republic of Ireland

Dear Sir,
Higher education in Europe has experienced unprecedented growth in internationalisation since the start of the 21st century. However the changing landscape of European politics and immigration are beginning to impact on international activities. In addition some European higher education institutions are questioning the educational impact of having too many English-taught academic programmes1.

Internationalisation in higher education is worth approximately €1.55 billion annually to the Irish economy and the Irish government aims to increase this to €2 billion by the year 20202. Ireland is a small outward-looking country and government policies support internationalisation in higher education; this is reflected in the international education strategy for Ireland, 2016-2020: “Irish Educated, Globally Connected”2. This is in contrast to sentiment in some European countries, such as the Netherlands, which are querying the extent of internationalisation in higher education. Other countries, such as Germany and Denmark, are debating the negative impact of teaching through English on the standards of teaching 1. In the U.K. Brexit is causing uncertainty to potential international students, with changes in institutional and visa application processes in a post-Brexit U.K. unknown at this time. This is in the setting of a static intake of international students in the U.K. since 2012.  By contrast, in Ireland, there was a 17.5% increase in international student numbers between 2014 and 2016. It is likely that this trend will continue, given that Ireland and Malta will be the only English-speaking countries in a post-Brexit E.U.

Medical education programmes have historically been the leaders in higher education programmes in internationalisation, in particular, foreign student recruitment. Other internationalisation activities, such as joint degrees and transnational education programmes are also likely to be influenced by the prevailing conditions referred to above. Irish medical schools are already engaging in these activities and in student mobility programmes, such as the European ERASMUS+ programme, which will continue to support medical student exchanges between Ireland and other E.U. countries, while the U.K. may no longer be a participant post-Brexit.

There is no doubt that our international students provide a rich and diverse learning environment, with opportunities to share values, cultures and experiences. This prepares our domestic and international medical students for the reality of working in clinical practice, whether this is in Ireland, the E.U. or further afield. Internationalisation in our medical schools reflects the diverse patient populations and global mix of diseases facing today’s graduates starting work in our health services. In addition, global health and culture awareness are being recognised as desired components of medical training curricula, in recognition of our multi-cultured and diverse patient groups and healthcare workers, and local presentations of global diseases. By starting in the classroom, where there is a mix of cultures and nationalities, our students will develop a broad approach to health care. Irish medical schools are well placed to benefit from internationalisation, supporting the graduation of students who are culturally aware, effective communicators and global in their approach to delivering patient care in the 21st century.

Yvonne Finn M.D. Vice-Dean for Internationalisation, College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, National University of Ireland Galway
Email: [email protected]

1. Phillip G Altbach and Hans de Wit The challenge to higher education internationalisation. University World News 2018. 23 February 2018 issue No: 494
2. Irish Educated Globally Connected an International Education Strategy for Ireland, 2016-2020