Foreign student numbers set to triple at Queen’s

Professor Patrick Johnston
Professor Patrick Johnston

A vast increase in the number of students from outside the British Isles is planned for Queen’s University Belfast.

That is one of the first messages from its new vice-chancellor Professor Patrick Johnston, who has set himself the target of boosting enrolments from outside the UK and Ireland to as much as a fifth of the entire student body – virtually triple today’s figure.

He aims to achieve this in six to seven years.

The Londonderry-born cancer specialist also defended Queen’s standing in educational league tables, and his own sizeable salary.

Speaking yesterday during his first day on the job, he pledged that one of his main aims is to make the university more “international” by forging closer links with Europe, China and Brazil.

And in Northern Ireland there will be a big change to the make-up of the students.

“Round about seven per cent, roughly, of our students are international students currently,” he said.

“My view is we should expand that to somewhere around about 15 to 20 per cent.

“They enhance the experience our students get in terms of their education because they’re being educated with people from different cultures and all over the world.”

It is also “very good for our economy”, he added, with around £20,000 spent annually in the Northern Irish economy by each foreign student.

In 2006 the university joined the prestigious Russell Group – a collection of 24 institutions across the UK. But it is one of the few members of that group not to appear in the top-200 list of global universities, published by the Times Higher Education Supplement.

Prof Johnston said: “In UK terms in other ways it is actually well up the rankings. League tables are league tables. They have an importance, but you have to be careful about what’s actually going into those.”

He said that according to the QS listings, “the worldwide rankings that most universities would use”, Queen’s stands at between 170 and 180.

“But at the end of the day this is not about league tables,” he added. “This is about a culture of ambition.”

His annual salary stands at £249,000; more than £100,000 higher than that of the Prime Minister.

This, he said, was something that was determined by the university’s remuneration board, adding: “I believe it’s a very fair salary for the leadership that I am going to give this institution going forward, based on what I’ve already done in the medical school and in cancer research.”

See Morning View, page 14