A survey was undertaken with the international students in Ireland and the results of the survey spoke about the discrimination students experience in Ireland. Nearly 40% of survey respondents revealed that they had either witnessed or been the victim of discrimination and racism.
The Irish Council for International Students conducted a new review that can provide additional insights into the lived experiences of international students. The survey was an online study in multiple languages as well as two focus groups which consisted of about 760 international students from 75 countries.
The major conclusions included the fact that 79 per cent of respondents had their mental health suffer as a result of the pandemic, with many citing feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety.
“Many international students in Ireland are facing hugely challenging conditions that negatively impact their academic performance, their ability to work and live adequately their mental health, and their overall wellbeing,” said Laura Harmon, executive director of ICOS.
“Many of these problems, although not new, have been highlighted and exacerbated by Covid-19, and additional challenges have arisen as a direct result of the pandemic”.
Of the 760 international students who were the participants of the study, 58 per cent said they were studying at an Irish higher education institute and 42 per cent said they were studying at an English language school.
Study participants were polled on issues such as immigration, medical insurance, online learning and support, employment, well-being, housing, and racism.
Approximately 40% of those polled said they had witnessed or been victims of racism in Ireland, with only 5% reporting the matter. The observations of isolation, depression, and anxiety, as well as difficulties accessing adequate mental health support, were mentioned by 79 per cent of those who reported mental health concerns.
Another source of concern was housing, with 63 per cent of ELS students and 28 per cent of HEI students sharing a room with at least one other person. Students report that the limited availability and high cost of housing are serious barriers.
Amidst these difficulties, when asked about their overall student experience, 50% of survey participants reported a positive experience. Moreover, more than a quarter (26%) of respondents had a negative experience, while the remaining 24 per cent were neutral.
“While the pandemic has negatively impacted the entire student population in Ireland, our report shows that restrictions have hit international students particularly hard,” explained Harmon. “Poor, expensive and overcrowded accommodation; the high cost of living, which often leaves students struggling to meet their basic needs; and barriers to accessing employment are among the other serious issues identified by the students,” she said.
In addition to the challenges posed directly by the pandemic, ICOS research points to a number of larger issues confronting overseas students in Ireland. The CEO of Marketing English in Ireland, David O’Grady, stated that he was aware of the difficulties that lockdowns had caused for students. She also stated that MEI participated in the Irish Government’s inter-departmental ELE Working Group Along with ICOS which was formed to address student welfare issues as soon as the lockdown occurred.
The Chairperson of the Progressive College Network, David Rusell, acknowledged that racism existed in Ireland, but claimed that it stemmed from a small group of people and was not symbolic of attitudes toward international students in general. “I would consider Ireland to be a very welcoming place, as a nation which has, over the last 200 years, spread our diaspora all around planet earth,” he said.
“That’s not to explain this away and make out like it isn’t important. It is important. And it absolutely shouldn’t happen. But I do think from the point of view of the language schools, we do everything we can to welcome the students and make them feel wanted,” he added.