Racism, mental health, overcrowded accommodation among major issues facing international students in Ireland, ICOS report shows

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Research into impact of Covid-19 on international students highlights urgent need for action

“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.” That’s according to Executive Director of the Irish Council for International Students (ICOS), Laura Harmon, who spoke at the launch of a new report by the organisation today (09.12.21).


The report investigates the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic from the perspective of international students and was funded by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.


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. Of the survey participants, 58% indicated that they were students at an Irish higher education institute (HEI), 42% at an English language school (ELS). Respondents were asked about topics including immigration, medical insurance, online learning and support, employment, wellbeing, accommodation and racism.


Key findings set out in the report include:

  • 40% of respondents said that they have either witnessed or been victims of racism in Ireland, with only 5% reporting the incident.
  • 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.
  • 63% of ELS students and 28% of HEI students share a room with at least one other person, and 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, Ms Harmon said: “While the pandemic has negatively impacted the entire student population in Ireland, our report shows that restrictions have hit international students particularly hard.

“Without being able to meet classmates and lecturers, attend classes or facilities on campus, or immerse themselves fully in college life, 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.”

In addition to challenges brought on directly by the pandemic, the research carried out by ICOS also points to a range of broader issues facing international students in Ireland. “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.

“It is important that we listen to those first-hand accounts and experiences, understand them, and take action to address them. Based on our research findings, ICOS has developed a series of recommendations, which we urge policymakers and the higher education sector in Ireland to consider and implement. They include a review and overhaul of current legislation on overcrowding, which dates from 1966 and is no longer fit for purpose; the construction of affordable, purpose-built student accommodation; changes to immigration policies and visa permissions to enhance pathways to employment; and the development and implementation of anti-racism policies 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.”




Contact: Sebastian Enke, Enkom PR, Tel: 087-3239496 / Email: media@enkom.ie


Note to editors:

  • The report is available for download from the following link: https://www.internationalstudents.ie/policy/publications
  • Executive Director of ICOS, Laura Harmon, is available for interviews on request.
  • A selection of responses offered by participants in ICOS’ research is listed below:
    • “Life has been relatively positive until Covid. Before, there was probably a racist comment here and there, now, it has been happening more commonly.” (Malaysia)
    • “I’ve heard comments on the streets about my hair (which is curly) and my appearance, but I chose not to give them too much attention.” (Brazil)
    • “I moved out of a 5-bedroom house that I was sharing with 15 people around 9 months ago, specially to keep up with my mental health and improve the quality of my studies. I pay an additional €100 monthly compared to the amount I was paying, but now I have my own room.” (Brazil)
    • “Not able to access the entire campus after spending €12,000 and another €10,000+ for living cost and everything being online. Not able to expand contacts or make any experience due to lockdown. Cannot meet friends, nor apply for active internship.” (India)
    • “The permitted working hours are not enough to survive.” (Brazil)
    • “I buy limited food because otherwise it changes my budget and affect my saving for college.” (Brazil)
    • “Most employers refuse to accept international students with a Stamp 1G [Third Level Graduate Programme], making it more difficult for some students to get jobs.” (Nigeria)
    • “Living here in Ireland as a PhD student with a partner that cannot be allowed to access employment of even engage in business. In short, you have to pursue your dreams as you are killing the career aspirations of your partner.” (Kenya)
    • “Stipend for a PhD student is not enough to live with the family. It is the lowest in the whole of Europe, where Dublin has one of the highest living costs in Europe.” (Sri Lanka)
    • “Health insurance is very expensive and doesn’t offer basic services.” (Mexico)
News type
ICOS Press Release