Sunday 22 April 2018

'Essay factories' as cheating option for third level students to be outlawed

Education Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Tom Burke
Education Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Tom Burke
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

'Essay factories' that offer a writing service for third-level students will be outlawed under new legislation.

Tackling academic cheating is one element in moves to ensure robust quality assurance standards for Ireland's higher and further education sector.

New powers for the country's institutes of technology to award their own degrees and greater protections for English-langauge students from overseas are also on the way.

Education Minister Richard Bruton is today launching details of proposed legislation to strengthen the authority of the higher and further education regulator, Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI).

Mr Bruton said he wanted to boost Ireland's reputation for quality and to give QQI a more central role to monitor and oversee standards across the sector.

He said the changes were necessary to ensure high standards in higher and further education, and provide better outcomes for all learners.

In relation to the "essay factories", the minister said it was about "getting tough and tackling academic cheating".

He said the new powers would allow for prosecution of someone who provided or advertised services that facilitate cheating.

"This is vital to ensuring an equal playing field for all our students," the minister said.

The proposed legislation will also address the protection of international students who come to Ireland to learn English.

There have been issues about the quality of certain schools, regarded as nothing more than "visa factories" often closing suddenly, leaving students high and dry.

In the period between April 2014 and January 2016, about 17 language schools in Ireland closed.

The bill will allow for the introduction of the International Education Mark, awarded by QQI, to provide international students with confidence their college or school is reputable.

Enhancing Ireland's reputation in this sector is part of the Government's International Education Strategy to grow the value of the overseas student sector by one-third, to €2.1bn, by 2020.

There are also provisions for a new national Learner Protection Fund, which will support students to finish their programmes of education and training in the event that their programme ceases prematurely.

Mr Bruton said that what he was proposing in this regard was in line with international best practice.

In a very significant change, for the first time institutes of technology will become 'designated awarding bodies' similar to the universities, giving them more autonomy over the range of programmes they deliver, up to and including master's degrees.

The Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Amendment) Bill will amend a previous act of 2012. The draft outline of the legislation is being sent to the Oireachtas.

Irish Independent

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