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Ireland to introduce long-awaited English language reforms this month

The Irish Department of Justice has confirmed reforms it laid out in May for Ireland’s international educators will come into force this month, including the publication of an updated list of providers eligible to accept international students.

Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Department of Justice and Equality

"We are working to ensure that ‘visa factories’ and the people who run them have no place in Irish education"

The regulations, announced by the government last year after a spate of English language school closures, were originally set to be implemented last October. However, the reforms were delayed as the government set out to review hundreds of higher education and language programmes that accept international students.

The Department of Justice has confirmed the regulations will be implemented and the Interim List of Eligible Programmes will be released on January 20.

“The purpose of this new policy is to better align the state’s international education strategy and immigration policy”

“The purpose of this new policy is to better align the state’s international education strategy and immigration policy,” a Department of Justice spokesperson told The PIE News.

“A key priority of both policies is the delivery of high educational standards by all providers through an effective learning environment, adequate teaching and learning supports and appropriate learning contents and outcomes.”

When she announced the reforms in May, Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, commented, “We are working to ensure that ‘visa factories’ and the people who run them have no place in Irish education.”

The ILEP will include all Irish or EU accredited higher education institutions and English language providers that can recruit students from outside the EU.

The reforms also require providers to put in place tuition protection measures including compulsory learner protection arrangements and escrow accounts to safeguard tuition fees. A clear declaration of school ownership, shadow directors, physical infrastructure and teaching capacity will also be obligatory for English language schools.

English language providers in the country have welcomed the long-awaited reforms that they hope will help clean up Ireland’s English language industry, which has seen 17 language school closures since 2014.

“Our view has always been that we welcome regulation and whatever addresses the industry to make it better for genuine students,” said David O’Grady, CEO of Marketing English in Ireland which represents some 50 schools who account 90% of the country’s English language market.

Schools won’t know if they are on the list of approved providers until it is published on the 20th

“And if the aim is to rid the industry of people who have been taking advantage of the immigration regulations for international students, then great.”

O’Grady added that once the reforms are in place, more school closures are inevitable. “If there is a provider that has a huge percentage of students who are visa requiring, and doesn’t appear on the ILEP, they have no means of income,” he said.

The government spokesperson said the ILEP will replace the international register “on a phased basis”. However, schools won’t know if they are on the list of approved providers until it is published on the 20th.

Visas for English language students will be cut from one year to eight months under the new regulations. But the government has, until now, maintained its study/work policy which is a huge competitive advantage for the industry.

“They’re going through a lot of rounds to not get rid of the right to work,” said O’Grady. “We’re appreciative of that and we want to work with them to ensure the system they bring in solves the problem it sets out to address.”

The move marks Ireland’s first step toward its international education mark, a single stamp of quality and code of conduct for all international student providers, which the government was to roll out in 2014.

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