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Ireland: ELT schools concerned about student insurance plan

Irish language colleges are concerned that the proposed plan for mandatory government-backed learner protection insurance is “inferior” to current products on the market and will fail to protect staff. 

Representatives from the Progressive College Network discussed the future of student insurance in Dublin. Photo: The PIE.

The proposed government bond is not expected to cover student health insurance or protect staff in the case of school closures

Speaking at the Progressive College Network’s conference in Dublin on October 27, college representatives welcomed the introduction of the long-anticipated International Education Mark, a new quality accreditation for Irish education providers, including English language colleges, due to launch next year.

As part of the new International Education Mark, which was created in part as a response to a spate of college closures since 2013, providers will be obliged to pay into a learner protection fund. In the event that an institution shuts down unexpectedly, the fund would cover the costs incurred by students forced to transfer to a new institution. 

But the proposed government bond is not expected to cover student health insurance or protect staff in the case of school closures, meaning providers may have to pay more for this additional protection. 

“It will ultimately result in inflation in college prices,” said Martin Moloney, principal at M.P. Moloney Solicitors, a firm specialising in ELT sector regulation. 

“It will ultimately result in inflation in college prices”

College representatives were also worried that the price may change each year and that any unspent money will not necessarily be rolled over to the following year, but could instead be absorbed into the exchequer.  

“That to me makes it a tax on the industry,” said Maloney. “If something is not broke, why fix it? We have something that is functioning very effectively in the sector at the moment.” 

PCN, which represents 9 language college groups, currently offers its own insurance policy that does protect staff and provides health cover. David Russell, chair of PCN, described the proposed fund as “far inferior”. 

Russell, who is also the director of NED college, discussed Ireland’s unique place in the market following Brexit as an English-speaking destination within the EU.  

“The UK previously were our biggest competitors but because of Brexit they have removed themselves,” Russell said. “We’re currently competing with the US and Canada and Australia and we’re winning.”

Speakers commented on other challenges facing the Irish ELT sector, including the rising cost of living and the lack of accommodation. The latter has seen increasing numbers of students become victims of scams, paying upfront for housing that doesn’t exist.

“We’re currently competing with the US and Canada and Australia and we’re winning”

These scams are not the only issues students have encountered. The housing crisis, also affecting domestic students, has seen some international students having to live in squalid and crowded conditions.

“Especially coming out of covid, it was quite a difficult period there where host families were uncertain whether they would go back into hosting. It became very difficult and there was a lot of panic in the market last summer,” said Rory Butler, director at International Student Accommodation

“It led to a lot of schools panic-pricing and they would just throw money at the problem. This has caused an issue now with host families – the base cost of host family accommodation has increased by 20-25 percent since 2019.

“Thankfully, we are in a situation now where we are comfortable in accepting bookings for 2023. There was a period there where we simply had close all our bookings in 2022, just because there was so much uncertainty on who was available.”

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