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LOVING LIFE: For Brazilian student Alyne Da Costa, Ireland offered the ‘perfect opportunity’ to study and she believed she had chosen the right college because it was listed on a Government register. Photo: Gerry Mooney

LOVING LIFE: For Brazilian student Alyne Da Costa, Ireland offered the ‘perfect opportunity’ to study and she believed she had chosen the right college because it was listed on a Government register. Photo: Gerry Mooney

LOVING LIFE: For Brazilian student Alyne Da Costa, Ireland offered the ‘perfect opportunity’ to study and she believed she had chosen the right college because it was listed on a Government register. Photo: Gerry Mooney

The date was March 20, 2014. Alyne Da Costa, a 24-year-old Harvard graduate from Sao Paulo, Brazil, contacted the National Media College (NMC) - formerly known as New Media Technology College - in Dublin to express an interest in a diploma course in film production that cost €4,050 a year.

The following day, NMC replied with course details and on April 2, Alyne was sent a "course invoice" and a "conditional offer".

Little did she know that two weeks later, the college, and three others offering English language education, would be suspended after "serious allegations" regarding visas for non-European Economic Area (non-EEA) nationals.

Despite the suspension - issued by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service - National Media College remained on the official Internationalisation Register of visa eligible courses, with nothing to indicate the suspension. And despite regular contact with the college, Alyne was never informed of the suspension and her upfront payment was confirmed in late July.

"I was so excited," said Alyne, who has qualifications in bio-medicine, English and German from prestigious colleges in Brazil, Boston and New York City.

"I finally found the course I wanted to do, I wanted to study European film and carve out my career in the entertainment industry."

Alyne moved home from New York to tie up loose ends, make accommodation arrangements and save up for her dream trip to Ireland.

"I would almost not eat to be able to pay for this when the time of the registration had come," said Alyne, an aspiring film editor.

For Alyne, Ireland offered the "perfect opportunity" to study and work part-time. But, most of all, she believed she chose the right college because "it was listed as 'approved' on a Government register" and she "didn't think for one second that there was a problem with the college".

Although the Government's Internationalisation Register is stated as "a list of eligible programmes for visa purposes rather than an endorsement of programmes from an education and quality assurance perspective", many eager students, just like Alyne, presume they have "the stamp of approval from the Irish Government".

Despite this lack of clarity, Alyne was also "never told at any stage", through her weekly correspondence with NMC, that there was a problem. "They never told me even though they knew they couldn't operate anymore and they were under investigation since April," she said.

Then, shortly before departure day, Alyne was "browsing around" on the Brazilian Embassy website and saw that four colleges were under investigation and that her college in particular was not able to issue any visas.

She got in touch with NMC again and was reassured that "everything would be fine and that another international student got their visa the week before".

However, Alyne "wasn't trusting them" because they were only replying to her emails once every two weeks.

She then reached out to the Irish Council for International Students (ICOS), who informed her that National Media College was not able to issue any visas and that it was "probably not being completely honest with me".

"It made me really sad, not just the fact that I was losing all this money, but also that I was also losing the opportunity to study at the college because they had a partnership with the London Metropolitan University," said Alyne, who was planning a move to London in the future.

With the help of the ICOS, Alyne managed to get back €2,000, but she was still more than €2,000 out of pocket when the college went into liquidation shortly after.

Despite her bitter disappointment, Alyne still wanted to come to Ireland because she "had everything planned". She decided to pay €7,000 to study film production at Pulse, another private college in Dublin.

"I'm really happy now and I'm loving life, but I still can't believe the way I was treated - they can't get away with it."

Sunday Independent