40% of international students in Ireland have witnessed or been a victim of racism

40% of international students in Ireland have witnessed or been a victim of racism

40% OF international students say they have either witnessed or been victims of racism in Ireland, according to a new report.

The report by the Irish Council for International Students (ICOS) investigates the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic from the perspective of international students.

More than 760 international students from 75 countries participated in ICOS’ research, which was conducted using an online survey in several languages, as well as two focus groups.

58% indicated that they were students at an Irish higher education institute (HEI), while the rest were students of English language schools (ELS).

79% of respondents have seen their mental health suffer because of the pandemic, with many citing experiences of isolation, depression and anxiety, as well as difficulties accessing adequate mental health supports.

The report also looked into accommodation, with 63% of ELS students and 28% of HEI students reporting they share a room with at least one other person. The low availability and high cost of accommodation are reported by students as significant challenges.

When asked about their student experience overall, 50% of respondents indicated a positive experience, however, more than a quarter (26%) of respondents reported a negative experience and 24% gave a neutral response.

Restrictive visas and employers’ poor understanding of different types of work permits heavily impact the ability of international students to gain relevant work experience and to support themselves financially. Limited employment opportunities were further reduced because of Covid-19.

Commenting on the findings, Executive Director of ICOS Laura Harmon said:

"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.

"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."

The inability to meet classmates and lecturers, attend classes or facilities on campus or to be immersed fully in college life was also mentioned, with Ms Harmon saying "students who are far from home have felt especially isolated, and almost 80% of those who participated in our research have seen their mental health deteriorate – some severely – as a result.

"We are particularly concerned about the high instance of experiences of racism, most of which go unreported,” continued Ms 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."

ICOS is recommending policymakers to review and overhaul current legislation on overcrowding, which dates from 1966 and they say is no longer fit for purpose

It also says the construction of affordable, purpose-built student accommodation should be prioritised and changes should be made to immigration policies and visa permissions to enhance pathways to employment, with anti-racism policies being implemented by all HEIs.

Ms Harmon added:

"Ireland has the potential to be a world leader in international education and continues to be an attractive study destination for international students.

"If we want to enhance and develop Ireland’s international reputation for high-quality education, however, it is crucial that we, as a country, recognise the important role international students play in the Irish education system and economy, and that we act accordingly."