As many as 50 private colleges will shut down within months because of controversial changes to the accreditation system for the international education sector, it's been claimed.
Minister for Education Jan O'Sullivan has accepted there will be further closures.
Since April, at least ten colleges have shut their doors, some following failed inspections.
From January, only programmes accredited by Irish awarding bodies in the English language and higher education sectors will be permitted to recruit international students.
The minister said: "We expect there probably will be further closures", but added that the changes are "for the benefit of students in general coming to Ireland".
Ms O'Sullivan said reforms would ensure that "people can have confidence, when they come to study in Ireland, in the qualification they are getting".
The changes are designed to weed out rogue operators. However, many genuine private colleges are also certain to be hit, the Sunday Independent has learned.
That's because foreign accrediting bodies, to be excluded under the new scheme, are widely used by reputable colleges here. From next year these will have to be replaced with domestic accreditation, such as FETAC or HETAC.
Colleges say there is already a backlog being reported for applications to Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), the State body approved to provide domestic accreditation to education institutions.
Private colleges have been told it could take at least a year to attain accreditation and meet the new requirements. In the interim they risk going out of business because they will be unable to recruit new students.
College Director Gerry Byrne of Advance International College in Cork said the changes could result in up to 50 further college closures with considerable job-losses.
Mr Byrne, like most operators, welcomes reform but questioned the proposed timeframe and method. He believes the government should put a hold on the changes until the academic year is over. That would allow the authorities to see which colleges have performed academically.
"Then they should incentivise those students and colleges who have progressed and done well to continue. The ones that haven't? Well that's the time to remove them," he said.
Thousands of students have already been left out of pocket as result of college closures.
One student, Erfan from Pakistan, said his father sold a large portion of the family farm so his son could come to Ireland. Erfan paid more than €5,200 to Leinster College in Dublin for a business course before it ceased trading earlier this month. The Pakistani student said he could not tell his father about the situation because he was fearful it would have a major impact on his health.
Another student, Brazilian Marina Silva Domingos, paid for two separate courses here and never even made it out of her home country. She had initially bought a course through an agent in Brazil that went out of business. She then purchased a course in the ill-fated Eden College. Speaking from Brazil, Marina said students are now reluctant to come to Ireland to study.
The Irish Council for International Students (ICOS) is in contact with more than 2,000 affected students both here and abroad.