Irish colleges succeed in challenging interim laws

15, January, 2015

Interim rules for approved international education providers in Ireland due to come into effect this month are now being reconsidered by the government, following a successful legal challenge against the regulations by two private colleges.

The website of Academic Bridge, one of the schools that successfully challenged Ireland's interim accreditation rules

The challenge by two Dublin-based institutions – the National Employee Development Training Centre (NEDTC) and Academic Bridge – claimed that the Minister for Justice had acted outside her powers and the proposed interim accreditation system had no basis in law.

As previously reported, an interim register was due to be established from the beginning of this month, acting as an approved list of providers authorised to accept non-EU students on student visas until Ireland’s planned International Education Mark (IEM) system comes into effect. Implementation of the register was delayed pending the outcome of this case.

The interim List of Eligible Programmes (ILEP) was due to include Acels -accredited English language schools and higher education programmes at Level 6 and above.

Justice Marie Baker ruled that the interim requirement that English programmes had to be Acels accredited was unlawful because applications to Acels were closed and there was no alternative accreditation option open to providers, therefore the Minister did “unduly fetter her discretion in limiting the set of bodies or persons that may be eligible for inclusion on the interim list”.

The judge adjourned the cases for final orders but said that until the introduction of the IEM, the Minister would have to adopt different accreditation criteria for inclusion on the interim list. Justice Baker was also of the view that Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) does not have the power to operate the Acels accreditation system.

NEDTC failed the Acels accreditation process in 2014, while the other is currently being considered for accreditation. The colleges have hundreds of students enrolled at any time, mostly from outside the EU, the court heard. Both colleges were listed on the Internationalisation Register under previous rules, meaning non-EU students enrolled at the colleges were generally granted a 12-month visa.

A joint statement issued by Minister of Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, and Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan, said the judgement was being examined by the departments.

“The Ministers for Justice and Equality and Education and Skills are fully committed to delivering on the government’s regulatory reforms programme in this area announced in September 2014. The Ministers will examine the range of options that are available to progress the reforms in a manner consistent with the High Court decision, and without prejudice to a possible appeal,” said the Ministers in the statement.

“The government is committed to maintaining Ireland’s reputation as a high-quality destination for international students and will continue to implement all necessary reforms to protect that reputation.”

The new regulations were announced in September last year following a spate of high-profile college closures, the majority of which were operating programmes accredited by non-Irish bodies.

Shelbourne College, one of the institutions that closed last year, has this week informed the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service that it intends to seek voluntary liquidation, and INIS said that some deposit funds paid by non-EU students who then failed to obtain visas may not yet have been returned.

A statement said, “INIS is aware of allegations that the college has failed to refund monies due to certain students whose visa applications were refused. While INIS cannot comment on specific allegations regarding refund of fees it is understood that some funds remain outstanding and the affected students should continue to pursue this issue with the college.

It should be noted that if a private business is allegedly involved in defrauding a person with whom it has dealings this is a matter for the application of criminal law and should be reported to An Garda Síochána for appropriate criminal and/or fraud investigation. A college taking money from students pending a visa application is fully aware that they have no entitlement to those funds until the student is confirmed as being allowed to come to Ireland as a student.”  

INIS recommends that Shelbourne College students already in Ireland should contact the Student Taskforce, which was established last year to assist students displaced by closures.



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