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Ireland: travel restrictions could result in ELT job losses and closures

Travel restrictions that prevent international students from entering Ireland are putting ELT businesses at risk of closure, according to an association of language schools. 

Travel restrictions in Ireland are putting ELT businesses at risk of closure. Photo: Pexels

In contrast to the ELT sector, universities are set to host full capacity lectures (up to 500 students in an auditorium)

Under Ireland’s current rules language schools are able to reopen, however they are not able enrol new overseas students. 

“As anybody who works in the English language sector knows, our primary clients are international students”

David Russell, chairperson of the Progressive College Network, told The PIE News that these rules are putting pressure on schools that might ultimately result in businesses closing down. 

“Back on July 19, the Department of Further Education told us that basically if we want to open our classrooms, we can do so as long as it’s safe for our students and staff. 

“But they also said that if we wanted to remain online, we can remain online. We were also asked to inform the Department of Justice in relation to what our plans were in relation to reopening,” he said.  

However, Russell said that schools were told by the department that while they can reopen classrooms, they cannot recruit students from abroad. 

“As anybody who works in the English language sector knows, our primary clients are international students. So basically what they’re saying is that we can reopen, but we can only reopen for the students who are currently in the country, which is absolutely ridiculous.”

He explained that language school students are only entitled to stay in Ireland for a limited number of visa extensions, which means that every English language school in the country is now competing for the same “ever dwindling” number of students. 

“The government keeps making these wonderful declarations that Ireland is open and the restrictions are being eased. 

“But it seems that this amazing reopening and easing of restrictions is for everybody, but not for the ELE sector. 

“We have specifically been told that we’re not allowed to recruit students from abroad. There’s been numerous statements from minister Harris and his department,he added. 

“We’d be happy with a phased reopening plan. We just need more clarity

Frustration around the rules were echoed by David O’Grady, CEO of MEI, an association of 66 regulated English Language Schools in Ireland. 

“Agents and groups keep calling, asking me when are we restarting. They don’t get why a tourist can come to Ireland, but they can’t confirm a booking for an overseas student,” O’Grady told The Irish Examiner.

“There can be a time lag of three to five months between us being out in the market and recruiting new students. We’d be happy with a phased reopening plan.” 

MEI added that it hoped the Taoiseach’s statement on August 31 would offer more clarity. The announcement largely revealed measures that would come into place in September and October rather than any easing of travel restrictions.

“The sector supports thousands of jobs,” O’Grady added.

O’Grady explained to The Irish Examiner that in contrast to the ELT sector, universities are set to host full capacity lectures (up to 500 students in an auditorium) from September. 

“Without evidence or data to back it up, language students have been singled out as somehow being a greater risk than university students, or tourists,” he said. 

“School closures are the elephant in the room that nobody really wants to talk about”

The job security of language teachers could now be in serious jeopardy according to Russell. While there are government support measures in place, he argued that they will not be enough to keep people in employment. 

“There’s definitely going to be a reduction in staff numbers despite what the schools want… as your student body drops, obviously you need fewer teachers,” he said. 

Prior to the pandemic, NED Training centre, which Russell runs, had up to 600 students a day. However he explained that this number has dropped to between 230 and 240 students and so fewer teachers are needed.  

The worst case scenario might involve schools closing according to Russell. “That’s the elephant in the room that nobody really wants to talk about,” he said.  

“It’s obviously a worst case scenario and nobody wants to even consider it. Because on July 19, schools were told that they can reopen and so of course, schools have started to reopen.

“Now, if you have a scenario where there are no students coming into the country, I don’t think you need to be a brain surgeon to figure out what’s going to start happening,” Russell added.

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7 Responses to Ireland: travel restrictions could result in ELT job losses and closures

  1. It’s so ridiculous, even borderline racist policy from Irish government.
    EU passport holders can come for holidays or anything else , and also numerous countries where people don’t need a visa to visit Ireland even if they aren’t vaccinated. While on the other hand many other countries where people are fully vaccinated but require visa cannot visit Ireland for studying English or for tourism.

    Sports and festivals are gonna take place with thousands of people without any consideration to the rules(let’s just agree on that) but government have issues with 15 students studying English in a civilized manner ?

  2. English language schools aren’t really reopened if we aren’t allowed to recruit international students.
    It defeats me how something in education sector can be less important than sporting events.
    Also we do not want any help from government or any stupid scheme, just allow opening schools and recruiting students and let us work and contribute to the reopening of the society.
    P.S. The harsh reality is that many of us are going to loose our jobs within weeks if not days, if our schools are not reopened for international students asap.

  3. So I lost my job last week. Can’t blame the school at all though. I was the newest teacher pre-covid and they had to cut cost when schools remain “closed”.
    Know a handful of people in my circle in ELE sector who were fired in last month or so. It’s a disgrace and with no news on reopening most of us will need to switch sector and start over again in a different job, different field.

    Thanks Michael Martin for the free unemployment I guess.

  4. We are thousands of students waiting for visas.Students who wanted to come left their jobs. There are those who have been waiting for more than a year.We will have to turn to other countries.It’s ridiculous that tourists come to Ireland and language school students can’t!Now we want a date. they have to take us into account.

  5. Can we have a date of reopening please?
    My passport is with Irish embassy since October 2020 and I still haven’t heard anything back from them. Everytime I contact them they tell me that Irish government have paused it. It’s almost a year and I am still waiting for visa despite paying in full for my language course to the college.

  6. The entities that regulate the ELT sector should and must put pressure to the government, much like the entertainment industry did last month, this is ridiculous

  7. Charles, well put, but I don’t think MEI is doing anything. Can someone from MEI advise when will we allow to open schools normally (and please don’t give us the “recruit students in country” logic, that’s not how our school function and earn money)
    These are some of the emails I found on MEI’s website, I will be sending them a copy of this webpage and ask them to give us an affirmative answer:

    I think it’s high time MEI do what’s required of them in these testing times.

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