Quality and Qualifications Ireland published several white papers at the beginning of November relating to the IEM, a quality assurance scheme for English language schools and higher education providers that has been in the works since 2012 and is keenly awaited by Irish institutions.
The IEM is due to be introduced in early 2023 but full details of a new fund to protect learners in case of school closures have not been set out in the latest documents, which have been shared for feedback.
David Russell, chair of the Progressive College Network, said it is “worrying” that key information is missing at this stage.
An outline of the insurance scheme has previously been hinted at and discussed in private with language schools. It is expected that providers will pay into a central fund, which will be used to cover costs incurred by international students if their chosen college shuts down, in a model similar to Australia’s Tuition Protection Service.
PCN, which represents eight college groups, has objected to the details set out in these discussions as the proposed scheme is unlikely to protect staff and makes the taxpayer liable in the case of college closures.
“As we speak, Australia is frantically trying to come up with a new model, as this [learner protection] fund model has turned out to be an utter disaster,” said Russell.
“There is still quite a bit of work to be done before it can be introduced successfully”
ELE Ireland, a network of six college groups, welcomed learner protection insurance but cautioned against “high fees that may make Ireland uncompetitive, while striving to underpin quality practices”.
“English language education is a significant sector in the Irish economy largely delivered by family run micro enterprises and the government needs to recognise the challenges and resources required from providers involved in the scheme,” said David Niland, chairman of ELE Ireland.
Both ELE Ireland and PCN both currently offer their own insurance products for language students.
Despite these concerns, language schools are keen to see the IEM introduced and support greater safeguarding for students.
“The IEM will create a more agile sector that speaks with one voice and benchmarks and outperforms what Ireland offers in terms of diversity of programs, ease of access for learners, as well as work rights and get ahead of market demands from learners and other competing destinations,” said Niland.
“PCN welcomes the introduction of the IEM, however, there is still quite a bit of work to be done before it can be introduced successfully,” said Russell.
Stakeholders can now feedback on the documents until December 16.