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Ireland: Approved list of ELT schools in the works

Ireland’s Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn has informed The PIE News of his plans for an “approved list” of ELT schools following the closure of a number of language schools in recent weeks and the launch of a joint task force to respond to the situation.

Ireland's Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn's address at the launch of the 3U Pathway University Foundation ProgrammeIreland's Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn's address at the launch of the 3U Pathway University Foundation Programme

"A number of enterprising individuals realised that by opening up a school they could actually get the visas and sell them at a price"

Quinn also said he hopes that from January 2015 Accreditation and Co-ordination of English Language Services (ACELS), the body responsible for accrediting Ireland’s ELT sector run by Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) will be replaced by the Irish International Education Mark (IEM), an accreditation scheme for education providers similar to ACELS but renewable on an annual basis.

“It is my intention that the Department of Justice will effectively have an approved list of schools in the private sector that we recognise as being bona fide,” he told The PIE News at the launch of the 3U Pathway University Foundation Programme in Dublin.

“My intention is to have effectively an approved list of schools in the private sector that we recognise as being bona fide”

“We’re trying to walk a tightrope where on one hand the sector is very lightly regulated and not putting them through a whole process of compliance and all sorts of other things,” he said.

“But [also] to ensure that people whose motives were not about teaching English can’t get into that sector and actually give the whole sector or parts of the sector a bad name,” he said.

Hundreds of students have been affected by the closure of the five English language schools for visa fraud allegations in the past two months. Quinn said the situation was the result of a “buoyant labour market” in Ireland.

“What happened was a number of shall we say enterprising individuals realised that by opening up a school they could actually get the visas and sell them at a price, and the people who took them understood in many cases,” explained Quinn.

“The vast bulk of the existing bona fide English language schools in the private sector were actually exactly that,” he claimed but expressed his desire to see non-approved private schools eradicated under the new scheme.

“I hope any of these schools that are not really here to teach English but to provide an illegal backdoor to the labour market will just pack their tents and go.”

“The vast bulk of the existing bona fide English language schools in the private sector were actually exactly that”

Quinn explained that the plan is to be able to separate genuine students from those that want to “get into the European labour market”, and to advise prospective students that they should refer to bona fide schools on the approved list if they want to avoid visa difficulties.

With a personal affiliation with international education having himself been an international student in France when he was 16 years old, Quinn says despite its size, Ireland stands apart from other English speaking destinations because it is friendly and safe.

“I’ve just been talking to students from Kazakstan, Brazil and Japan where there’s absolutely no knowledge of Ireland as a place,” he said. “Safety and security are big factors of concern for parents.”

Speaking at the opening of the 3U Pathway University Foundation Programme in Dublin, Quinn also stressed the importance of globalisation and internationalisation in a higher education context.

“We welcome the foreigner and we welcome them in the context of globalised student education for the following three reasons: because we are such a homogenous population still, we need the levelling of foreign students in the classrooms, foreign lecturers in our seminars, and also the cultural including financial contribution that they bring to the system,” he said.

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