Wednesday 25 May 2016

Fear of closures as English language school rules to come into force

Paul O'Donoghue

Published 10/01/2016 | 02:30

When she announced the regulations, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that the new regulations were aimed at stamping out so-called 'visa factories'. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
When she announced the regulations, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that the new regulations were aimed at stamping out so-called 'visa factories'. Photo: Frank Mc Grath

More English-language schools are likely to close when new regulations come into effect later this month aimed at tightening up the sector, according to industry experts.

The new regulations, which were originally due to be in place by October 1, are due to come into force on January 20. Some 17 language schools have shut since April 2014, leaving many students out of pocket after they had paid upwards of €1,000 for classes.

From January 20, schools will have to receive accreditation from Irish awarding bodies, or EU universities with comparable standards, in order to be included on a list of approved courses for non-EU students.

The accreditation, ACELS (Accreditation and Co-ordination of English Language Schools), was a voluntary scheme, allowing providers to operate in the Irish market without ACELS approval.

Many of the colleges that closed since April 2014 were not recognised by ACELS.

Marketing English in Ireland (MEI), a body representing over 50 schools, has been pushing for the introduction of the new regulations for months. It claims that over 90pc of students who study English in an accredited provider in Ireland study with an MEI school.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice, which devised the new regulations, said figures from last November "show 66 language schools with long-duration students and an overall number of approximately 15,500 students".

When she announced the regulations, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that the new regulations were aimed at stamping out so-called 'visa factories'.

Before the introduction of the new rules, officials have been inspecting providers around the country to make sure that their offerings are up to the required standard.

MEI chief executive David O'Grady said he expects further college closures when the new rules come into force.

He claims that several schools are not up to standard, adding that he expects as many as six to close after the introduction of the regulations.

"I do think there will be more closures, maybe about five or six from what I have heard anecdotally," he said.

Sheila Power, director of the student representative body the Irish Council for International Students, agreed that more shutdowns were likely.

"I would be fearful that there will be some closures, there are some colleges operating at the moment that won't reach the bar being set," she said. "I would just hope that they notify students in an orderly fashion, rather than pinning a notice to the door on Monday morning."

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