Under reforms passed by the Irish government, the Qualifications and Quality Assurance Bill will also strengthen the role of Quality and Qualifications Ireland as the regulator of English language schools and establishes a fund that English language schools will be obliged to contribute to if they provide courses of three months or more.
“I want to ensure that international language students coming here have a quality learning experience”
The fund aims to offset losses for students and staff in the event of a language school collapsing follows the snap closure of a number of language teaching schools in the country in recent years.
The bill also enables QQI to examine the compliance of those in the English language education sector with national employment law.
In cases where non-compliance is identified, QQI will be empowered to withdraw authorisation from a provider to use the IEM.
Ireland’s minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said the measures in the bill are necessary to give international students the welcome and protection that they deserve.
“I am delighted to be able to say that the government has put in place protections for the staff and students of English language schools, with the passing of this bill,” she said in a statement.
“We have over 120,000 international language students from all over the world learning English in Ireland every year.
“I want to ensure that international language students coming here have a quality learning experience that will encourage them to act as ambassadors for what Ireland has to offer when they return to their home countries,” she added.
The Irish Council for International Students said it “warmly welcomes” the enactment of the Bill and the measures that will see tighter regulations for providers of English language and higher education programs to international students.
“We are delighted that this long-awaited legislation has finally been passed,” said ICOS’ executive director Sarah Lennon.
“International students can now come to Ireland with greater reassurance that they will be protected, and the introduction of the International Education Mark will ensure that only providers that meet the highest standards will be allowed to offer programs.
“ICOS looks forward to working actively with the Department of Education… and all the agencies that will be involved in the implementation of the new measures.”
Speaking to The PIE News, a spokesperson for Marketing English in Ireland said the implementation of the IEM is a positive development for schools that consistently deliver high-quality language programs and student experiences.
“With a no-deal Brexit threatening the Irish economy the ELT sector in Ireland is more important than ever for the Irish economy,” the MEI spokesperson added.
“We hope that the implantation of this mark will mean an end to an unfair playing field for our members and will force all schools to implement high standards.”
In parallel to the passage of the bill, mediator to the English language education sector Patrick King recommended the establishment of a Joint Labour Committee to set minimum employment standards for the ELT sector.
King had been appointed by Mitchell O’Connor to prepare a report on the ELT sector following the closure of Grafton College last December.
According to the report, King found the majority of teachers he interviewed were “highly critical” of the working conditions in Ireland’s English language schools.
He said most expressed concerns about the “precarious nature of their employment” given the closure of a large number of schools with little or no notice to staff.
“International students can now come with greater reassurance that they will be protected”
“Many thousands of students travel from all over the world to attend English language courses in Ireland…however, this reputation is fragile and is damaged each time an English language school closes at short notice [and] when there is evidence that school employees are poorly paid and have unfair working conditions,” King noted.
Commenting on the mediator’s findings, regional officer at trade union Unite Brendan Byrne said he has written to the minister seeking a clear timeline for the establishment of the JLC.
“It took the closure of Grafton College, leaving teachers and students high and dry, to finally hammer home the point that action was needed to protect both teachers and learners in this booming sector,” said Byrne.
“Now we need to ensure that these recommendations are acted on as quickly as possible to ensure that the ELT sector is characterised not only by high-quality learning but also by high-quality employment standards.”