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Friday 29 August 2014

O'Keeffe's language school breached visa rules – report

Katherine Donnelly Education Editor

Published 24/05/2014 | 02:30

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Student Bruna Montero during a protest over international College closures. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Student Bruna Montero during a protest over international College closures. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Batt O'Keeffe

FLAGRANT breaches of student visa rules at a college for international students where former Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe was president are exposed in documents published today.

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The lax educational and attendance standards at Eden College are detailed in reports drawn up after surprise visits by educational quality inspectors late last year.

In one case, a student took holidays immediately after registering on a course – and over a nine-week period attended only 30pc of the required class time before any warning letter was sent out.

The reports on the two schools, by officials of Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), have been released to the Irish Independent, following a request under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation.

A QQI spokesperson said they have not had any response from Eden College in relation to their intention to release the two reports on foot of the FOI request.

Eden is among five colleges that closed suddenly in recent weeks, after the crackdown by immigration authorities against schools, mainly offering English language courses for students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA).

Earlier this week, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn admitted that some schools were abusing the system and were effectively a front to provide access to the Irish jobs market, at a cost.

His predecessor Mr O'Keeffe, who was president and chairman of the board of management at Eden at the time of the inspections, recently said he was "astounded" at allegations of irregularities.

Eden, which had schools in Dublin city centre and Bray, Co Wicklow, was under special scrutiny after concerns raised in earlier QQI inspections.

As a result there were follow-up visits some months later. Subsequently, Eden was one of a number of colleges where immigration authorities suspended the issuing of visas and residence permissions to non-EEA nationals seeking to enrol.

The QQI inspectors noted some progress after previous visits to both schools. But their reports detail a litany of visa rule breaches and unacceptable practices during the second-round inspections to Eden College, Burgh Quay, in September and in Bray in December.

In obvious contravention of the visa rules, inspectors found evidence of students not turning up for classes for the required minimum number of hours in order to qualify for a visa.

In one example at the Bray centre, a student who had registered on a programme in August, took holidays for the whole of September. They did not attend in October and turned up for 60pc of required time in November.

Inaccurate

"This means that in the three months post the student's arrival, s/he took a month's holidays on arrival and then attended approximately 30pc of the course for the following nine weeks," the report states.

Inspectors also found evidence of students not entered for, or taking, exams at the end of their course – and who were not aware that this was a condition of their obtaining a visa.

According to the Burgh Quay report, on the day of the inspection neither the admissions manager nor the director of studies were able to provide an exact figure for registered students – and it described attendance lists on that day as "inaccurate".

In two of four attendance lists, students were either missing from the teacher's list or the teacher's list had additional students.

The inspectors also raised questions on a range of other matters, such as students studying English at a level below the stated minimum entry requirement for enrolment for the particular course. Inspectors also found that, in some cases, Eden was not delivering the minimum requirements on some courses on offer and continued to promote courses on their website that had been withdrawn.

Teaching quality was described as "poor to satisfactory". Among the criticisms at Burgh Quay were that "teaching staff were not following a syllabus or scheme of work" based on the expected learning outcomes for the course level.

Other concerns highlighted included "the extensive copying" of textbooks, including an English coursebook and other materials, which they believe was in breached the copyright licence.

Irish Independent

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