Clara Schenk from Luxembourg is doing a Masters in Criminology at UCC, Cork, “I think the university should have provided international students the option of remote learning.” Picture: Dan Linehan
International students attending college in Ireland have told the they feel like they were lured here by universities to generate profit, with many of them now stuck in Ireland unable to return home, and without the campus experience they came here for.
Some of these students are campaigning for a refund of some of the fees they paid, saying they were promised in-person tuition which, because of Covid restrictions, now cannot be delivered.
Many pre-paid for their accommodation and are ‘stuck ‘in Ireland due to the backlog in Garda National Immigration Bureau appointments. Until the students get their Irish Residency Permit cards, they can’t leave the country as they will not be allowed back in.
Others have raised concerns about social isolation and mental health, with many unable to meet classmates in person.
UCC international student, Clara Schenk, says she believes the university should be doing more to help its international students
She is originally from Luxembourg and is studying for a masters in criminology. “I knew before applying that the majority of classes would be held online. I was worried that the remaining in-person classes would eventually be moved online,” she says.
Clara says she wanted to move to Ireland regardless, but that moving to a different country and paying accommodation can be expensive. “I think the university should have provided international students the option of remote learning, especially if they came from outside of Europe. But I understand they didn’t expect [this].”
She also thinks the university should be doing more to help international students connect with others.
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“I feel like the university did little to promote the meeting of international students, which is understandable as we aren’t allowed to meet in bigger groups, but I think that more things should have been offered.”
She says creating small virtual rooms where Masters students could meet new people and chat could be an option. “Most societies still hold online events which gives me a small opportunity to meet some new people.”
Accommodation is another issue which Clara feels the university is failing on. “All students living in UCC-owned accommodation can get a refund if they decide to move back home.”
Clara applied for her course in late June, and by that time all UCC-owned complexes were full.
She also wishes the university would provide more information about the second semester. “An email acknowledging our situation would make me feel calmer about the rest of the year.
“Even if the university doesn’t have an update yet, the message ‘we do not yet know’ is still better than nothing at all.”
In a statement, UCC said: “UCC remains committed to offering all students as much of a hybrid learning environment as possible in line with prevailing public health guidelines.”
They added that a dedicated ‘Transition-In’ programme for international students, which supports them in adapting to life in Ireland, was developed to account for public health advice.
UCC also said their campus accommodation is facilitating refunds for students who want to return home.
The university added that it strongly recommended all incoming students apply for a multi-entry visa, which would allow them to leave Ireland and return without having completed the IRP process.
“UCC will work with students to provide the necessary documentation to re-apply for an entry visa from the appropriate visa processing centre in their region.”
Saikrishna Javvadi, from India, says he feels like the college only wants international students because of the high fees they pay.
He is currently paying €20,750 for a one-year masters in Data Analytics in NUI Galway. His first semester will be entirely online.
He says many international students paid for accommodation, flights and full fees under the assumption some element of their course would be delivered on campus and in-person.
“The flights were also on the costly side, given the current situation. We have no labs in person [for the first semester] unfortunately, which is really disappointing.”
Saikrishna says many international students would have declined their course offer had they known it was going to be online.
“We were told we had to be physically present. This was in a letter given to us by the university to present at the port of entry, Dublin Airport. It said the university would be conducting in-person classes [so we had to be allowed in].”
Saikrishna adds that students come to Ireland for international exposure, and this year they are not getting it. “We could have chosen to do other online courses which were less expensive.”
He is also stuck in Ireland. “We quarantined for 14 days… we signed a [lease] for a year, paid a deposit… it’s a very difficult situation. We can’t go back.”
He also must wait for an appointment with the GNIB in Galway to get an Irish Residency Permit (IRP) card. Until he has this card, he can’t leave Ireland as he won’t be allowed back in.
Getting part-time work is another major concern, as a lot of cafés, restaurants and bars are closed.
“We have raised the concern about fees several times, but they haven’t paid much attention to it,” says Saikrishna
Sarah Carter, an American PhD student in NUI Galway’s school of engineering, says she is fortunate that she receives a stipend and her fees are paid for.
Sarah says from speaking to other international students in the Postgraduate Research society, which she is part of, there’s ‘despair’ among the cohort.
“Especially among international students who are new and haven’t had the opportunity to meet anyone. The all-online announcement happened after most were done their two-week quarantine, they were finally ready to go out and meet their classmates.”
Sarah adds many students are completely isolated and they don’t know anyone in Galway. They are stuck in Ireland because they can’t get an appointment with immigration to get their IRP card, and returning students are unable to renew their IRP cards.
She says that many international students are having such a bad experience in Ireland they are encouraging their friends back home not to go to college here.
“We feel like cash cows. We don’t get the kind of support we deserve. The international offices are underfunded. We are forced to pay €300 for an IRP card and we can’t get appointments by a reasonable time.
“We can’t prop up the Irish third-level education system [with our fees] anymore… it’s a cheap way for the Irish government to not fund their education system, they drag a bunch of internationals over, and they spend a lot of money on campaigns to get us over here.”
“Our international students have been supported to either come to Ireland or to study remotely, and our dedicated teams will continue to support our students during this difficult time,” NUI Galway said in a statement.
“The International Office at NUI Galway has arranged immigration appointments for registration with GNIB (Garda National Immigration Bureau) for all new and returning Non-EU students in the coming weeks. Many of our students have also attended appointments in recent weeks.
“If students have any questions related to immigration, please contact us at email@example.com.”
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