Language teaching sector worth €274m


A new immigration regime for students was introduced last year, writes STEVEN CARROLL

IT'S HARD to remember a time there wasn't an influx of overseas students coming to Ireland to study English for the summer. Some 100,000 people come to Ireland every year to try to improve their grasp of the language. Fáilte Ireland says the language-teaching sector is worth some €274 million to the economy annually.

Justin Quinn, managing director of the Centre for Education Studies, said learning English was once a luxury for people but in the face of a global recession, it has become something parents feel their children need to carve out a successful career.

"It has gone from being a luxury to a necessity," she said. There were 110 Department of Education-approved institutions, largely in Dublin, providing classes for those coming in, as well as jobs and income for those here, at the start of this year.

Policymakers have taken note and the last government published a strategy last September, entitled "Investing in Global Relationships", which sought to extend the State's reach into international education.

The strategy set out to develop the sector to 120,000 students a year by 2015. Eighty per cent of English students coming to Ireland travel from within the European Union but an increasing number, who generally choose to stay longer and work, are arriving from Brazil, Japan and South Korea.

Most non-EU students come through approved travel agencies which offer courses to university students in various countries on behalf of the language schools.

A new immigration regime for international students, reforming entry requirements but imposing safeguards to prevent abuse of the system, was introduced after the strategy was published last year.

The rules state that if a student is a non-European Economic Area national, the maximum period for taking language and non-degree courses is now three years, compared to seven for those studying for a degree.

The Department of Justice said the regime change came because an "absurd situation" had arisen where some students were spending seven years or more here studying basic English.

"With high levels of unemployment, such a practice was simply not sustainable," it said.

"A new student coming to Ireland can, if they so wish, spend a full three years learning English and working at the same time (20 hours a week during term). This is a pretty generous arrangement and an important support for the language sector."