Editorial: Colleges debacle calls for urgent quality code
Published 24/05/2014 | 02:30
The official response to the unfolding developments in private colleges catering for international students is akin to calling in the coastguard after sitting back and hoping that a ship doesn't run aground.
By the time the distress signal goes up, it's too late; the damage is done. Genuine international students, who now find themselves suffering financial hardship and facing an uncertain future, because of the sudden closure of some private colleges, know that all too well.
They trusted Ireland's claim to be a quality education destination and have discovered the hard way that standards are not necessarily up to scratch. It is less easy to quantify, but inevitably too, there has been damage to Ireland's reputation by the doubtful quality of some courses and, in certain cases, breaches of immigration rules, as outlined in reports from the educational standards' body, Quality and Qualifications Ireland. Education Minister Ruairi Quinn admitted this week that some schools were abusing the system and were effectively a front to provide access to the Irish jobs market, at a cost.
Increasing the number of international students coming to Ireland is a government priority, a laudable policy because of the revenue generated and the potential to forge long-term links with nations and individuals, to the benefit of all involved.
Attracting international students is a focus of trade missions headed by ministers to various parts of the world. There are some great examples, such as the Brazilian government-sponsored Science without Borders initiative, now bringing students to third-level colleges all over Ireland. But recruiting international students carries with it responsibilities, including minimum educational standards, sufficient monitoring to ensure that rules in relation to visas are observed and protection for quality providers, who are now being asked to clean up a mess not of their doing.
Many of those with a knowledge of this sector are not surprised by the unfolding events and say the warning signs were there for a long time. Tighter regulation promised for later this year, in the form a quality mark followed by a Code of Practice, is long overdue and must be made to work.
Hard choices face HSE on cost of 'wonder drugs'
WE have been here many times before and on each occasion the pleadings of desperate patients are moving and compelling. A 'wonder drug' is licensed but it may be too costly for the State to make available on one of its schemes.
In recent years, the campaigns were for new medicines to treat skin cancer and cystic fibrosis. Now, people who suffer from multiple sclerosis, who are experiencing a significant improvement in their ability to walk after taking the drug Fampyra, face having to pay up to €500 a month from July unless the Health Service Executive (HSE) steps in.
The same HSE is currently writing to hospitals, warning about their financial crisis, with inevitable cuts in patient services.
Can it justify subsidising another expensive medicine, which, according to the Centre for Pharmacoeconomics in 2012, would cost €7.5m annually in five years?
Who would want to deliver a decision in this case? Drugs prices are still notoriously high in Ireland compared to other countries. The Government is belatedly tackling this through a revised agreement with drugs companies but may yet struggle to cut its bill by €50m this year to €1.56bn.
The Irish health service has traditionally had a generous attitude to making new treatments available to patients. But we are in a new era.
It means there is a huge onus on the drug makers to urgently enter into talks with the HSE.
They must agree to a realistic price in order to allow patients to continue to benefit from this and other medicines.