Ireland, a staunchly Catholic country, is attracting a big chunk of Saudi students, although the United States remains the preferred educational destination for them.
There are currently around 2,500 students from the MENA region studying in Ireland including 1,738 from Saudi Arabia, 229 from the UAE, 236 from Oman and 251 from Kuwait.
A recent Ministry of Higher Education report also says a considerable number of Saudi students under the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Program  are studying in Ireland, besides other countries among whom the United States with 69,235 students on scholarship is still the most sought-after destination.
Ibrahim bin Ismail Kutbi, director, Center of Strategic Studies, King Abdullah University , said: “Despite the catholicity of the colleges in Ireland, Saudi students are increasingly taking admission in these colleges as these institutions are not only economical, but also not bad in terms of inclusivity.”
“To my knowledge, they don’t indoctrinate their ideology. Rather as I have found out, our students are increasingly becoming a source of inspiration for their Christian fellows to understand Islam and its various tenets,” he added.
A product of Iowa University , Kutbi said it is good for our students to understand others and their culture, while being the best ambassadors of Islam at the same time.
According to M. Khurshid Akhtar, assistant professor in the same department at KAU, the number of Saudi students in Catholic colleges like those in Ireland is increasing.
One reason for the attraction of Irish educational institutions is increasing Islamophobia in the United States, Canada and the UK, Akhtar said. He said the number of Muslim students, including those from Saudi Arabia, is therefore dropping in these countries, and countries like Ireland are fast becoming the first choice for them.
Justifying the increasing attraction toward Irish educational institutions, an official in the Irish Consulate in Jeddah, said: “Ireland is among the top 10 worldwide in imparting higher education.”
Ireland’s higher educational institutions, he said, have over 5,000 courses on offer in medicine, science, technology, engineering, business, law, languages, literature, history, philosophy, psychology, sociology and other humanities as well as the creative, visual and performing arts.
Ahmad Basha, an Egyptian student, said Muslims go to these colleges despite being conservative in nature because they do not find the Christian atmosphere alien to their Islamic outlook.