Students told to get guarantee before paying language schools
Department of Justice issues statement addressing concerns over regulation of sector
File photograph showing members of staff with gardaí outside the Leinster College language school on Harcourt St, Dublin, following its closure. The Department of Justice has told international students that they should seek guarantees that their fees will be protected before paying private language schools. File photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times
International students who want to study at private language schools in the State should seek a written guarantee that their fees will be protected before handing over any money, the Department of Justice has said.
In a statement, the department acknowledged the escalating concern over the lack of regulation in the sector, saying many students and teachers have “unfortunately become innocent victims of . . . disreputable enterprises”.
The planned introduction of a new register of accredited courses, along with a beefed up inspection regime, was halted last January due to a successful High Court action by two English language schools in Dublin.
The schools had claimed that the new rules were too restrictive and rigid, and that the proposed accreditation system had no basis in law.
The department said amendments to the reforms, taking account of the High Court ruling, had now been finalised and would be brought for Cabinet approval very shortly.
“In addition to the reforms outlined last September, further measures are being proposed to increase the protection for students and strengthen governance of the industry.”
The department said that, in the meantime, “prospective students are strongly advised to carefully consider the college at which they are seeking to enrol.
“Students should fully satisfy themselves of the ‘protection for learner’ arrangements in place at the college and should seek details of those arrangements in writing.”
The closure of more than a dozen private English language schools over the past year highlighted what the department called “the wholly unacceptable manner in which part of our international education industry has been operating”.
“It is self-evident that for some of the businesses in this sector, the primary service on sale is the facilitation of immigration and educational courses are a means of delivering that.
“Whilst there are many genuine language schools operating entirely legitimately, the efforts of these schools and of the State in promoting and regulating a valuable sector of the economy is being severely undermined by a small number of rogue operators.
“These operators have shown scant regard for immigration rules and no regard for the welfare of genuine students.”
The department reassured “genuine students” affected by the closures that their immigration status was not in doubt.
“All existing immigration permissions of students in recently closed colleges will be honoured in full and the students will be entitled to work in accordance with the rules for student migration.
“It remains the case that there are many good and reputable schools that can provide a quality course, and some are offering special deals for those displaced in the closures.
“Ultimately, the only solution to sorting out the problems in the language sector is an extensive reform programme.
“The unequivocal message is that there is no place for unscrupulous operators who have no regard for immigration rules or their students.
“Reform of the sector will be to the benefit of genuine students and teachers who deserve better and the majority of providers who have built up legitimate professional businesses over the years based on the quality of the services they provide.
“Genuine students and teachers can and must play an important role in cleaning up the industry. They are on the ground and well placed to provide on a confidential basis early warning of bad practice, misrepresentation, financial difficulty and risks to student welfare.”