The Irish government want to attract more international students by 50% and the number of English languages schools by 25% in the next five years.

The move is in stark contrast to the situation in the UK where visas for international students are being cut back and language schools are under scrutiny because of concerns about bogus institutions that exist as nothing more than visa providers.

However, the Irish government has also launched a new immigration regime for international students, is reforming entry requirements and imposing safeguards to prevent abuse of the system.

The Irish move, called Investing in Global Relationships, hopes to increase the worth of the international education sector to the Irish economy from the current €900 million annually to €1.2 billion by 2015.

The strategy was launched by Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Tánaiste and Minister for Education, Mary Coughlan and Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern. Cowen said this ‘very important’ strategy was about setting out a pathway for Ireland in what is a very competitive area, to become a world-class provider of international education.

‘We have a very well regarded education system as we know. We have had a tradition of people coming from abroad coming to be educated here. This is a very highly competitive area of activity in terms of how many countries are promoting their comparative advantages,’ Cowen added.

At present there were 17,000 full time students who come to Ireland from abroad, or about 10% of the total full time student population and the aim is to increase that to 25,500 by 2015.

‘We have this year over 100,000 English language students who have come to Ireland. We want to make sure that that’s built up to 120,000 by 2015. Action plans and initiatives to underpin how these targets can be achieved are set out in the strategy that we have devised and which has been approved by Government,’ the Taoiseach said.