Language school reforms to eliminate ‘visa factories’

Reforms welcomed by bodies representing students and regulated private colleges

Current permissions allowing students to study in Ireland while attending a 25-week English language programme will be reduced from a year to eight months from October.

Current permissions allowing students to study in Ireland while attending a 25-week English language programme will be reduced from a year to eight months from October.

 

Reforms to the immigration system for private colleges and English language schools will eliminate rogue operators and “blatant abuses”, the Government has said.

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan and Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald have announced a number of reforms to the student immigration system for the sector.

Under the new reforms, only programmes accredited by Irish awarding bodies, or EU institutions with comparable standards, will be permitted to recruit international students.

It will also restrict the number of education programmes eligible for student immigration purposes.

Current permissions allowing students to study in Ireland while attending a 25-week English language programme will be reduced from a year to eight months from October.

In addition, all relevant institutions will have to comply with new requirements, including declarations around ownership, physical infrastructure and teaching capacity.

They will also have to put in place protections for students, including a facility to safeguard advance payments made by students.

Since April 2014, a total of 17 private colleges have closed, the bulk of which provided English language tuition to students from outside the European Economic Area.

The closures have affected thousands of students, many of whom had lost their tuition fees as a result.

Ms O’Sullivan said the reforms were necessary to “to protect genuine students, legitimate operators and Ireland’s reputation”.

“It is clear that there have been businesses operating in this sector who were solely interested in facilitating immigration and not in providing quality education,” she said. “We are working to ensure that ‘visa factories’ and the people who run them have no place in Irish education.”

The Irish Council for International Students (ICOS), which has been representing students affected by the closures, said it “very much welcomes” tighter regulation of the sector.

“International students need to feel absolutely confident their money will be kept secure from the moment it’s paid and this must be the ultimate goal of further reform,” director Sheila Power, said.

The reforms were also welcomed by Marketing English in Ireland, a body representing 52 English languages schools and colleges, which said the new measure “can’t come in quick enough”.

Its CEO David O’Grady said the reforms were necessary to eliminate “rogue operators . . . who exploit Irish immigration, employment and taxation regulations, abuse international students, and cause reputational damage to the regulated English language sector in Ireland”.

He said the organisation hoped the reforms were “the beginning of the end of the sham that has been played out before our eyes for the last few years”.

The Private College Network welcomed the reform proposals for English language schools. Its chairperson David Russell said it fully supported the introduction of regulatory reforms to guarantee a high quality sector for students, teachers and colleges.

“We are hopeful that the four months afforded to applicant colleges will give colleges who are not currently ACELS accredited enough time to satisfy the requirements laid down by the department,” he said.