INTO Queen’s at Ten

This month, October 2019 marks the tenth anniversary of the launch of the INTO Queen’s University of Belfast partnership. A perfect time to look back and reflect on the journey so far.  

This time, it’s personal

For me, this partnership is personal.  It was one of the first partnerships I was directly involved in helping to create, and I grew up in Northern Ireland.  Queen’s shaped the community in which I lived.  The doctors and pharmacists who treated me as a child were trained at Queen’s.  Most of the teachers who did their best to drag me through my A-levels were educated at Queen’s.  The lawyers and political scientists who were instrumental in delivering the Good Friday Agreement came from Queen’s.  Indeed, the Queen’s Centre for Conflict Resolution is now widely regarded as one of the world’s finest and plays an active role in providing space for parties the world over to resolve their differences.  Queen’s even appears on the bank notes we use. 

It is difficult for those living outside the region to appreciate the scale of the University’s impact on its local community and the rest of the world, and that was the challenge we faced when the partnership launched in 2009.  For years, the University struggled to be noticed in the key student recruitment markets, competing with other institutions that spent more on international student recruitment and were supported by benign visa policies, large international offices and significant government support.  Nevertheless, all of us at INTO believed Queen’s was a global gem waiting to be discovered.

Walking the walk

Seamus Heaney, the Irish Nobel Laureate and Queen’s alumnus, once said: 

Anyone with gumption and a sharp mind will take the measure of two things: what’s said and what’s done.”

A healthy Northern Irish skepticism focused on results as much as rhetoric.

So, ten years on, what has happened?  Since 2009, Queen’s international student enrollments have grown at 22 times the U.K. average and more than four times that of the Russell Group, of which it is a founding member.

During a decade of sluggish growth and even stagnation for many universities in the U.K., Queen’s University’s international performance has been remarkable.  HESA, the U.K.’s national higher education statistics agency, data  represented in the chart below demonstrates the scale of Queen’s international enrolment achievement. 

And it is not just the growth in international student enrolments that has been remarkable.  The students who have come from more than 70 countries around the world have achieved impressive academic results, with more than 90% progressing to further study at the University and almost 2,500 international students having gone on to graduate from the University.

What has come as no surprise to me is that when students have arrived from across the world, their verdict on the student experience has been overwhelmingly positive.  Annual student satisfaction rates in excess of 95% have been the norm since the partnership started.  The Queen’s student experience has set the benchmark by which others measure.

What’s the secret?

Northern Ireland and Queen’s have always been global jewels, their impact too often invisible through the fog of conflict and associated media coverage from the 1970s through to the 1990s.  Game of Thrones, which was filmed primarily in Northern Ireland, helped to transform the region’s visibility, bringing tens of thousands of visitors who would have otherwise never considered it as a holiday destination.  Similarly, the INTO Queen’s partnership has simply provided a larger global platform from which the University can project its excellence and attract students from around the world.

We on the partnership development team are often asked what makes for successful partnerships.  Aside from the fact that Queen’s has always been and continues to be a truly remarkable institution, for me, the answer is always the same: institutional leadership and commitment.  I want to dedicate this to the memory of one such leader, the late Professor Patrick (Paddy) Johnston, former Vice Chancellor at Queen’s, a world-class scholar, committed internationalist and strong champion for the partnership.  The success of this partnership and Queen’s continued global rise is a powerful testament to his values, vision and legacy.

INTO partnerships have a more profound mission than increasing international enrolment and driving additional revenues, though these outcomes are certainly welcome.  This partnership has supported Queen’s and the local community, accelerating the arrival of more international students and giving domestic students’ education a global perspective.  In turn, new generations of global citizens carry their impressions of Northern Ireland and Queen’s as they enter the world, helping to redefine perceptions of the region on a world stage and, like so many Heaneys, eternalize its storied beauty.  

Tim O'Brien

Author: Tim O'Brien

Tim is Vice President, Global Partner Development, INTO University Partnerships

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