The IEM, a stamp of quality that providers will need to obtain to recruit international students, is one of a number of measures covered in a draft outline of the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Amendment) Bill, published on May 15.
Also included in the document are promises to clamp down on ‘essay mills’ that sell completed essays and dissertations to students, to enable Institutes of Technology to award bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and to strengthen the role of the higher and further education regulator, Quality and Qualifications Ireland.
“Only providers who meet the robust quality assurance procedures of QQI will be allowed to carry the Mark”
The document also proposes a Learner Protection Fund to enable international students to complete their course at another provider if their college closes.
“This is part of our wider plan to make Ireland’s education and training service the best in Europe within a decade. And clearly standards and reputation are vital to that,” Education Minister Richard Bruton said in an interview with RTÉ.
Originally set to be introduced in 2014, the International Education Mark is now slated to roll out in 2019.
“Only providers who meet the robust quality assurance procedures of QQI will be allowed to carry the Mark,” Bruton explained.
“This will benefit both education and training providers and students by highlighting those providers who are delivering high quality educational services.”
The IEM is a “significant part” of the government’s International Education Strategy, which aims to grow the value of the sector to €2.1bn, the minister added.
The government has already taken steps towards the IEM, including the implementation of an Interim List of Eligible Programmes authorised to enrol international students, all of which must adhere to the Code of Practice that will form the basis of the IEM.
“There is no doubt that these measures will help to protect international students,” commented Shane Ormsby, founder and director of IBAT College Dublin.
“These improvements have already been evidenced through the reduction of learners being disadvantaged through provider closures [since the ILEP has been introduced].”
However, many in the industry see the proposed reforms as “too little too late”, according to Graham Gilligan, managing director of Welcome Ireland.
“I am very optimistic that the International Education Mark will communicate a message of quality and assurance globally for Ireland as a destination, but I will wait to see exactly what requirements schools will have to fulfil,” he said.
“For example, will they need Irish accreditation? Will there be more transparency regarding ownership and management structures?”
Meanwhile, others are dubious that the IEM will actually come into play in the next couple of years.
The education minister has said he expects the bill to be enacted in 2018, but Marketing English in Ireland CEO David O’Grady observed that with a minority government in power, a state of political deadlock means few bills are passing through parliament.
“This bill is joining a very long queue and this queue isn’t going to get shorter,” he said.
“This bill is joining a very long queue and this queue isn’t going to get shorter”
A general election is expected to happen by the end of 2018, O’Grady noted, making it “very unlikely” that the bill will be enacted in the near future.
O’Grady did, however, acknowledge that unlike previous iterations, the IEM as it is described in the draft legislation does distinguish between tertiary and English language providers.
“Our fear always was that we were being shoehorned into the same categories and the same requirements as universities,” he noted.
Another positive evolution is that the draft legislation extends the IEM’s remit to providers that teach non-EU students outside of Ireland, such as through online and blended-learning programs or on overseas campuses.
Meanwhile, a mandatory Learner Protection Fund for international students would be a welcome development, O’Grady said.
However, the proposed legislation suggests that the Learner Protection Fund will apply to only students from outside the EU and EEA, noted Declan Millar, founder of international education business HSI.
“The Learner Protection Fund is to be welcomed as it will provide assurance to prospective students with a clearly defined demographic (adults from non-EU/EEA),” he said, though he added the document is “short on detail” on how the fund will operate.
Like many others, Millar is reserving judgement on how the final bill will affect the sector.
“It is hard to see how one-size-fits-all in relation to such a multi-faceted enterprise such as education in Ireland,” he said.
“[The outline of the bill contains] some excellent ideas – but we need to see the details and how these schemes will operate and impact in a practical fashion on the English Language sector in Ireland.”