Saudi language school plan sparks 'ghetto' row
Published 20/02/2010 | 05:00
A plan to house 750 Saudi students on a live-in English language school outside Dublin has raised concerns in government departments.
Businessman Jim Mansfield yesterday unveiled details for the controversial project on the site of his Citywest Hotel complex.
He is converting an unused golf and shopping village into an education campus, with the first 750 pre-university students from Saudi Arabia expected in April.
But the Department of Education and the Department of Justice are concerned about aspects of the plans for Citywest Institute of Education.
Government sources have expressed concern that it conflicts with integration policy and could lead to ghettoisation.
Increasing the number of foreign students in Ireland is a core government target, but a spokesperson for the Department of Education said it was "not involved in bringing this project here".
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Saudi Embassy in Dublin referred queries about the project to Citywest.
Citywest Institute of Education is signing up Co Dublin VEC (CDVEC) to deliver the English language programme. The VEC has a strong track-record in English language teaching and integration/socialisation for foreign nationals.
CDVEC acting CEO Marie Griffin said they were aware of concerns within the Department of Education and said, while not underestimating the challenge, felt their experience could help it to be successful.
The project, which promises 293 jobs, including 100 teaching posts, was also welcomed yesterday by South Dublin County Council and South Dublin Chamber of Commerce.
The college has a total capacity for 1,500 students and Mansfield Group CEO Sean Whelan said yesterday that they had signed their first contract with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Higher Education.
Mr Whelan said the Ministry of Higher Education in Saudi Arabia had been seeking a suitable location to establish an international hub for English language and other courses for some time.
"After extensive global site evaluation and following thorough analysis, the Saudis elected the south Dublin facility."
He said that all Saudi students would be funded by that government's King Abdullah Scholarship programme and the value of the initial six-and-a-half-year contract to Citywest and the local community was €250m.
Mr Whelan said the initial group of 750 students would include 600 males and 150 females, who would remain for 18 months and could, potentially, go on to third-level in Ireland.
The five-day-a-week classes are intended to bring the students' English language skills up to the standard required for third-level, while the programme also includes social and cultural education about Ireland and the world.
In keeping with the strict Islamic code, the female students would each have a chaperone, possibly a parent, while the college will have a Halal kitchen to cater for their special dietary needs.