||In a bid to safeguard the English language teaching industry in Ireland against bogus international students, the Irish government introduced new regulations last year, stipulating that all schools offering academic year courses enrolment on which allows non-EU students to work had to be included on the Department of Education and Science Register of Approved Courses.
Most language schools across the country welcomed this move. “We approve of these precautions if it offers extra security to the student in terms of quality of education, and to the school in terms of genuine students,” says Attracta Cosgrove, Director of Studies at Dargan Language Centre, Bray, Co.Wicklow.
In addition, a step towards compulsory regulation of the market is imminent. Education Ireland will soon be responsible for ensuring all language schools in Ireland reach a certain quality standard, and the future aim is to only allow visas to be issued to students enrolling on courses at these schools.
Finbar Chambers at International Celtic School of Languages in Shannon believes this is a positive step for the Irish market, “as it lessens the chance of people taking advantage of the system to make a quick buck on visas under the guise of education”. However, Aoife Mulvihill at Atlantic Language Galway in Galway argues that there should be more done to distinguish the schools whose standards go beyond those stipulated by Education Ireland. “There should be a rating or grading system so that each school has a chance to be rewarded for their time and effort put into providing excellent services in the areas of academic tuition, accommodation, social activity programmes and support services,” she claims.
The Irish English language teaching market has had a few lacklustre years in terms of student numbers but things seem to be looking up for 2006 at least. Mulvihill reports good growth in both 2005 and in the first half of 2006. “[We] saw an overall increase of 11 per cent adult and junior bookings in 2005,” she says. “In 2006 there has been a further increase of eight per cent [by August].” Mulvihill puts this down to the growing reputation of the school and Galway’s increasing appeal.
Others, however, report a disappointing performance for 2005 that carried through into the first few months of 2006, although numbers picked up for the summer season. Justin Quinn, Managing Director of the Centre of English Studies in Dublin, says their 2006 numbers were up by 15 per cent on 2005, despite a disappointing first six months. “The summer was very busy and contributed for most of the increase,” he explains, adding that junior students showed the biggest increase.
Beverly Bazler of Galway Language Centre in Galway reports that their numbers were down by 10 per cent in 2005, but that by the end of summer 2006, numbers were up by around 20 per cent.
Although the terrorism threat in the UK has, at times, slowed the Irish market too, Ireland has also gained market share at the expense of the UK. Ciara Scully, Product Marketing Officer at the Irish tourism authority, Fáilte Ireland, comments, “At the beginning of the year, there were increased numbers of school groups to Ireland from Austria, Switzerland and Germany who traditionally go to London but chose Ireland this year.”
But Declan Millar from High Schools International in Dublin warns that cost has suddenly become a “looming issue”, which is affecting the junior market. “I would not predict the demise of the traditional junior summer business which has been the backbone of the Irish industry for decades but it is true to say that Ireland is no longer the first, or maybe even the second, choice for many junior programmes,” he says.
However, the major bone of contention for Ireland’s English language providers is undoubtedly visas, in Russia and China particularly. “The Chinese [visa] situation has been problematic for quality language schools in Ireland for some time,” asserts Mulvihill. “The reason for this is because of poorer quality schools [in Ireland] allowing a high number of Chinese to enter into their schools and not paying particular attention to their attendance.”
The recent crisis in the Middle East has also led to more problems for students applying for visas from this area. Bazler from Galway Language Centre reports, “This year, all of our Palestinian applicants were refused visas, even UN employees.”
Fáilte Ireland, Ireland’s national tourism development authority, recently conducted a survey of the English language teaching (ELT) market in which 51 accredited language schools took part. The survey revealed that 57,221 students attended ELT courses in the period between April 2005 and March 2006. In addition, based on the figures submitted, it is estimated that across all schools in Ireland, the total number of English language students in Ireland during this period reached 129,030.
Among the 51 schools surveyed, 57 per cent of students were aged 18 years old and above, 43 per cent were 17 years or younger, while the remaining 37 per cent were 16 and under. This illustrates the importance to the Irish market of the junior sector, further emphasized by the fact that 54 per cent of students studied on courses in July, August and September.
In terms of student nationality, Europe still accounted for the bulk of Ireland’s international students, with 85 per cent of students at the schools surveyed coming from Europe, and just 11 per cent from Asia.
Among the schools interviewed for this article, Atlantic Language Galway reported an increase in European students and a decrease in Asian students, while new nationalities such as Bolivians have also started making an appearance. At Dargan Language Centre, Attracta Cosgrove says the top nationalities were Spanish, Italians and Polish but that they have received more Eastern Europeans this year from countries such as Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.