Tuesday 21 October 2014

English language schools shake-up to protect students

Katherine Donnelly and Niall O'Connor

Published 03/09/2014 | 02:30

Minister for Education and Skills Jan O'Sullivan yesterday
Minister for Education and Skills Jan O'Sullivan yesterday

Major reforms are on the way to protect both foreign students and Ireland's reputation as an education destination after a series of embarrassing school closures amid claims of poor standards and visa abuses.

The move coincided with the closure of another English language school in Dublin, the seventh this year.

The English in Dublin School announced on its Facebook page yesterday that it was going into voluntary liquidation.

There had been some concerns about the Merrion Square college since it posted a notice last week stating that it was taking a "special holiday" but would re-open later in September.

In yesterday's announcement, the college said there would be a creditors' meeting on Monday, September 15.

The English in Dublin School was recently the subject of a report by the State accreditation agency and a decision was made to withdraw official recognition from it.

There was no suggestion of abuses of immigration rules that have been linked to other schools.

Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan (inset) and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald yesterday announced a range of measures, due to come into force in January, to ensure that students registered at such schools are in Ireland primarily to learn English, and that educational standards are maintained. In many cases, a student's visa entitles them to work for extended periods, but it is not supposed to be the main reason they come to Ireland.

The two ministers published the final report of the task force established to help students affected by the college closures.

The task force noted that, despite strengthened rules, there continued to be abuse of student immigration by a number of low quality providers.

The reforms are considered necessary to protect the interests of genuine international students, to tackle abuse of the labour market and the immigration regime, and to safeguard the reputation of high-quality Irish education providers. Under the changes, with a few exceptions, only programmes accredited by Irish awarding bodies in the English language and higher education sectors will be permitted to recruit international students. Institutions will be required to have a track record of educational quality and immigration compliance.

There will be a beefed-up inspection regime, along with changes to the operation of the work concession, which allows non-EEA students to work.

Ms O'Sullivan said Ireland could not let its "international reputation be damaged by low-quality provision or rogue operators.

"The reforms are crucial to ensuring that only providers that offer the highest standards can attract international students."

Irish Independent

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