Asia Immersion Programme

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Early last week I was stopped in the street by someone asking me why I was no longer using my Sunday Independent column to comment on the political events of the previous week.

I tried explaining how I thought discussing new ideas was far more important than talking about who is up or down in the political arena. His expression, however, told me that he wasn’t impressed, so I decided not to tell him about the number of very positive calls and e-mails I have received over the past few months welcoming the ideas I have written about so far.

He may not be too happy with this week’s contribution as I want to again focus on a new idea aimed at getting the country back to prosperity rather than rehashing the political events of the week – even though there were some significant ones, not least, the publication of the Saville Report and Prime Minister Cameron’s absolute and unambiguous acceptance of its findings.

The new idea I want to flesh out today could help turn the unfortunate annual migration of graduates into a positive and have significant medium term benefits for the Irish economy.

About 40% of the 55,000 plus who graduated last year stayed on in further education. While many did so here, a large number looked at options abroad, mainly in the traditional destinations – Canada, Australia, and the U.S.,

While these locations have and will continue to welcome Irish graduates, we need to look further afield too, especially to those locations which look set to become the powerhouses of future economic development.

President McAleese’s visit to China this week reminds us how important Asia will be to us. It is the world region that has shown the earliest signs of recovery and one of the outcomes of the current global economic crisis is that more economic power is expected to shift to Asia.

An Asia immersion programme could become as a core part of Ireland’s Asia Strategy. The programme would aim to send perhaps as many as 5,000 graduates each year to Asia (China, India, Korea) to complete their postgraduate study there.

It could both prepare those who migrate for what they can expect and support their studies there. The goal is to ensure that they return home in a few short years to use their greater knowledge of Asia to develop long term trade and business links within Asia for the benefit of the economy here.

Graduates accessing the programme could receive supports or payments roughly equivalent to job seekers allowance while they are abroad.

The cost of their study in Asia could be cost neutral as colleges here would be asked to set up reciprocal exchange agreements with the participating Asian Universities.

So for every student we send out we would receive a student from that said University. People in the third level sector here tell me that many Asian Universities now teaching through English, so it would be attractive to Asian students.

Indeed this reciprocal arrangement would itself have benefits as it would nurture positive relationships and attitudes to Ireland for those coming to study here when they return to senior management and leadership roles back at home.

While Asia should probably be our first target, it should not be the only one. Similar programmes could be considered for Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

There is already a huge demand from European students for study in Ireland, as we are one of only two “regions” in Europe that have English as our “first” language and, like Asia, a high percentage of European Universities are also teaching through English.

Before I close, maybe just one thought on the failed Fine Gael heave against Kenny. I couldn’t help noticing how some of the comment from the anti Kenny camp seemed to have more than a hint of disdain and perhaps even snobbery.

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