On Wednesday, “The School-less Movement”, a student-organised protest called by former Millennium College students, assembled in Dublin to protest the government’s handling of the situation. Many are concerned that they have lost their visas and as a result will lose their part-time jobs.
“We have every sympathy for the genuine students who have been affected by the closure of these private colleges”
In response to the protests, Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn has set a joint task force made up of representatives from Irish Nationalisation and Immigration Service (INIS), industry group Marketing English in Ireland (MEI), the Irish Council for International Students (ICOS), and regulators Quality and Qualifications Ireland to meet on Friday.
Announcing its establishment, Quinn said: “We have every sympathy for the genuine students who have been affected by the closure of these private colleges and this Government wants to assist and co-ordinate a sympathetic response to them.”
So far, INIS has permitted Millennium College students until September 1 to work up to 40 hours per week with no immediate requirement for non-EEA students to seek a new course, advising students to “take time to consider their options.”
“It’s important to note that the students who have been affected are being given grace periods with regard to their immigration status so that they can remain in Ireland, continue to work to support themselves and have the time to plan their next steps,” said Quinn.
Last month, after an investigation by the Sunday Times exposed visa fraud at four English language colleges, the INIS suspended visa issuance for all the schools and opened an investigation into their operations.
Millennium College, which housed around 300 students, shared the same director as The Allied Irish College, which had around 60 students and closed after having only been open for two months.
Meanwhile, an estimated 400 students were affected by the Eden College closure last month. MEI has been facilitating the reallocation of around 90 students who were on ACELS accredited courses at the college and that reached out for assistance.
Still, Sheila Power, Director for the Irish Council of International Students (ICOS) is doubtful the industry will be able to take on the fall out.
“The scale of the situation compared to the capacity of existing providers is such that any adequate response will essentially require the authorities to create a ‘pop-up’ English language college alongside other creative solutions for specific student groups,” she said.
Students from other colleges who are still open but have had their visa issuing revoked by the investigation remain in limbo.
“I’ve been in Dublin for almost three months, my three month visa expires on 25th of May, so I don’t know what can I do about it,” Bruno Japur Paes Barreto, a 23-year-old Brazilian student studying at the Business & Computer Training Institute, told The PIE News.
“I’ve worked hard in Brazil, saving money to come to Ireland, and I spent a lot already here with house, food, with my English course. I can’t simply go back home without my English reaching a good level. It’s going to be time and money lost for me.”
“MEI are happy that the problem of cheap courses and exploitation of the concession to work by unscrupulous operators is at last being addressed”
Despite possible threats to Ireland’s reputation as an ELT destination, David O’Grady, CEO of MEI says the industry welcomes the closures.
“The practices of institutions like those now closing have bedevilled the ELT business for years. MEI are happy that the problem of cheap courses and exploitation of the concession to work by unscrupulous operators is at last being addressed.”
Allied has advertised six-month courses for as low as €600 on its Facebook page while the average price at MEI schools is between €3,500-4,500.
Stephen Shortt, Managing Director of Alpha College of English, which has taken on some of the affected Eden College students agrees that the situation could be a call to arms to improve quality standards across the sector.
“I wouldn’t want to get into the blame game on this, politically in Ireland it’s likely to come up soon, but I think most of the quality minded schools in Ireland, members of MEI or otherwise, would welcome more rigorous enforcement and implementation of the quality standards we subscribe to.”