The new measures were proposed as a response to a series of English language school closures in Ireland, as well as the abuse of practices in the sector.
“Retaining the status quo is simply not an option”
The government policy statement, entitled “Reform of the international education sector and student immigration system”, outlines the new measures which the government hopes will provide lasting change in the sector.
The reforms, which were approved by Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan and Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Justice and Equality, include creating a more restrictive list of programmes that are eligible for student immigration purposes.
The introduction of an interim list of eligible programmes (ILEP) has been planned since last September, but has been deferred since January 1, due to a legal challenge from two colleges.
Minister Fitzgerald said in a statement that changes were needed in the sector due to “blatant abuses” of the immigration system.
“Retaining the status quo is simply not an option,” she said. “We are working to ensure that ‘visa factories’ and the people who run them have no place in Irish education.”
The first version will feature only higher education and English language providers. VET and further education programmes will not be included.
In addition, students doing a 25-week language programme will have their immigration permission reduced from 12 months to eight months.
David O’Grady, CEO of Marketing English in Ireland, a representative body of 52 English language schools and colleges across the country, said that the reforms are welcome, but the hurdles lie in the implementation of them.
“I think as objectives, what they’re doing is correct,” he told The PIE News.
“But it can only be proved to be worthwhile if they implement the rules and if they police them and if they are properly executed.”
Other reforms include requiring higher education programmes who wish to recruit international students to be accredited by Irish awarding bodies, or to have equivalent accreditation by an EU university.
“It can only be proved to be worthwhile if they implement the rules and if they police them and if they are properly executed”
Private providers need to also meet a set of requirements by October in order to be featured on the revised ILEP, due to be published in October.
These include institutions disclosing all their directors and anyone with a beneficial interest in the business, as well as declaring what the institution’s student capacity is.
Learner protection will also be made compulsory, with all private providers needing to show evidence of their arrangements should there be a closure.
In addition, providers receiving funds from students in advance will be required to have them held in an escrow bank account while the visa decision is pending.
Education and skills minister Jan O’Sullivan, said that this move was necessary to protect the students’ finances.
“What we have at the moment is a measure to make sure we protect the students first of all which is the most important issue,” she told The PIE News.
“To ensure that those who pay more to go on an education course in Ireland do not lose that money.”
However, O’Grady said that there many institutions will have no trouble meeting the overall requirements.
“It would be over a year from it first being flagged and its final implementation,” he said. “So schools are, if you like, ready.”
The ILEP will be updated every four months, until the International Education Mark is put into place