Ireland reforms international education sector

04, September, 2014

Ireland has announced major changes to the regulation of its international education sector, including a more restrictive list of programmes that will be eligible for student visas, in an effort to protect the country’s reputation and clamp down on abuse of the system.

Credit: Fáilte Ireland

The reforms, drafted in response to the closure of a number of private college providers in the first half of 2014, are set out of three pillars: a more restrictive list of eligible programmes; an enhanced inspection and compliance regime; and changes to the operation of work rights. The reforms effectively remove the further education sector from recruitment of non-EU international student recruitment.

The current Internationalisation Register will be replaced with an Interim List of Eligible Programmes for Student Immigration Permission (ILEP) from January 1st. The interim list will remain in place until the new International Education Mark (IEM) quality assurance scheme is fully established.

The programmes eligible for ILEP are higher education courses at National Framework Qualification (NFQ) Level 6 and above, English language courses recognised by accrediting body Acels or QQI (Quality and Qualifications Ireland), foundation programmes linked to a higher education institution and ACCA accounting courses at designated platinum providers.

Furthermore, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Services (INIS) will consider previous track records of personnel involved in the ownership and management of providers.

An enhanced inspection regime is the second pillar of the reform, with INIS given an enhanced function to check attendance systems and powers to make unannounced inspections if considered necessary. Monitoring and periodic review will be part of the IEM regime.

Current work rights for non-EU students of 20 hours per week during term time and 40 hours per week during non-term time have been retained for providers on the ILEP. However, non-term time rights have been standardised to the months of May, June, July and August and from December 15th to January 15th.

Ireland’s Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan, said, “Thousands of high-calibre students from around the world come to Ireland to study in our universities, institutes of technology, private colleges and English language schools. These students make a significant contribution to campuses and communities across the country. We cannot let our international reputation be damaged by low-quality provision or rogue operators. These reforms are crucial to ensuring that only these providers which can offer the highest standards can attract international students.”

David O’Grady, CEO of language school association Marketing English in Ireland (MEI) welcomed the announcement and the new measures

“The results of the implementation of these proposals should greatly restore the reputational damage inflicted on us by organisations indifferent to the needs of international students or to the requirements of international education. These new proposals will again give us ownership of the process of educating international students. The refinements proposed should help guarantee genuine students for genuine educators, and these are the only parties for this space. MEI member schools look forward to playing their part in this exciting, but challenging, way ahead,” he said.

The policy statement, jointly released by the Departments of Education and Justice said that the Task Force established in the wake of recent closures had identified a number of characteristics among the providers of concern: primary targeting of non-EU students, with very few Irish or EU students enrolled; unsustainably low tuition fees; programmes accredited by non-Irish bodies; and a lack of learner protection arrangements.

The policy framework notes that providers will be permitted to teach out existing non-EU students, and indeed are contractually obliged to do so. Institutions due to be removed from the ILEP in January are permitted to recruit students onto programmes that commence before that date.

The International Education Mark (IEM) is scheduled to be available from January 2015, and public and private providers will be eligible to apply once overall arrangements for quality assurance have been agreed with QQI.

Meanwhile, INIS has confirmed that it understands another provider English in Dublin has recently closed. Students that have not completed studies may be eligible for reduced-fee course provision at an MEI school and should visit the Task Force website for details of how to apply.

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