International student numbers in higher education climb to new high

One in seven students are from overseas with US, China and India the most common countries of origin

The number of international students attending Irish universities climbed to a record high of more than 35,000 in the last academic year, or almost one in seven students.

Higher education authorities say the year-on-year increase of just over 10 per cent is a sign that overseas students are returning to Irish universities in comparable numbers to before the pandemic.

The data, released by the Higher Education Authority (HEA), shows international students made up 14 per cent of the student population in 2022/23, up from 12 per cent in 2021/22.

The US remains the most common country of origin for internationally domiciled students, followed by India and China.


New entrants to higher education increased by almost 1 per cent as more than 1,000 additional students registered for higher education courses using the Leaving Cert as their entry basis in 2022/2023 compared to the previous year.

There were a total of 256,785 students for all modes of study in 2022/23, down 2 per cent from in 2021/22.

Full-time enrolments dropped from 200,035 in 2021/22 to 198,970 in 2022/23, however full-time undergraduate enrolments remained stable.

Enrolments in PhDs increased by 5 per cent over the year and by 26 per cent since 2016.

Enrolments in taught masters declined by 5 per cent from 29,990 in 2021/22 to 28,525 in 2022/23. However, this follows a 5 per cent increase between 2020/21 and 2021/22 while the country was in the depths of the pandemic.

In addition, the number of mature new entrants has continued to drop, with a decrease of almost 600 mature new entrants to higher education in 2022/23 compared to the previous year.

Dr Vivienne Patterson, the HEA’s head of skills, engagement and statistics, said a full employment economy may be resulting in mature entrants choosing to remain in the workplace rather than return to education.

“However, overall the number of undergraduate students registering each year is continuing to increase with Level 8 honours bachelor’s degrees being the most popular route across the sector,” she said.

Overall, almost two-thirds of enrolled students were studying honours degrees (60 per cent), and 11 per cent were studying a taught masters.

The gender gap observed in previous years remains, with the gender gap continuing to widen. Females accounted for 55 per cent of the overall student population, up from 52 per cent in 2016/17.

The most popular subject group studied is business, administration and law (20 per cent), followed by health and welfare (17 per cent).

In the class of 2022, there were 85,645 graduates (down 3 per cent from the class of 2021).

More than two in five graduated with an honours degree (40 per cent), while almost one in five graduated with a taught masters (23 per cent).

Almost one in four undergraduate honours degree graduates graduated with a first-class degree (24 per cent).

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent