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QQI given new powers to regulate ELE sector

Quality and Qualifications Ireland, the agency responsible for assuring quality in Irish education and training, has welcomed cabinet approval of a Bill that will enhance QQI‘s powers in the area of English language education.

The amended Bill will strengthen the agency’s role in ensuring high standards across education. Image: QQI

The Bill also provides QQI with statutory powers to prosecute ‘essay mills’

“These new powers will help copperfasten Ireland’s reputation as a destination of choice”

Announced by the Irish minister for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, the ‘Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018’ updates previous legislation in a number of key areas including:

  • The introduction of a long-awaited International Education Mark, a quality stamp required by education providers in order to recruit international learners.
  • Allowing QQI to examine the academic and financial capacity of providers.
  • The establishment of a ‘Protection for Enrolled Learners Fund’, which will allow students to complete a course if their provider shuts down suddenly.

The Bill also provides QQI with statutory powers to prosecute ‘essay mills’ and other forms of academic cheating.

Mitchell O’Connor praised the legislation, saying it “will further empower QQI as a regulator of quality and will strengthen the agency’s role in ensuring high standards across Ireland’s higher and further education sectors”.

CEO of QQI Padraig Walsh said he was delighted to see the amended legislation progress through the various stages of approval and looks forward to preparing for its enactment in the coming months.

“[The Bill] will allow QQI to extend its statutory oversight to ELE providers and provide international students with confidence in the quality of their chosen course,” he explained.

“With Brexit fast approaching, these new powers will help copperfasten Ireland’s reputation as a destination of choice for learning the English language.”

He told The PIE News that QQI’s previous lack of authority to recognise awards within the National Framework of Qualifications, in particular, has wide-ranging consequences and has led to the deferral of a number of key policies.

He added that QQI looks forward to studying the proposed legislation in detail and working with their partners in government and the education sector to develop an implementation plan, which will ensure learners at home and abroad can have confidence in a high-quality education system.  

“Once the Bill is passed into law, implementation will require detailed regulations, codes of practice, quality assurance procedures and the establishment of a learner protection fund,” he said.

“We unreservedly welcome the IEM, but we need additional detail on how it will operate”

Ireland has been experiencing strong growth in its English language education sector, with Marketing English in Ireland data revealing an 8% rise in the number of international English language students studying in Ireland in 2017.

But while CEO of MEI David O’Grady said he welcomes the introduction of the IEM – a stamp of quality that providers will need to obtain to recruit international students – certain issues regarding how the legislation will operate need to be cleared up and disclosed.

“QQI are going to operate an insurance scheme that is the equivalent of learner protection, but I am not hugely confident that they can become an insurer,” he told The PIE.

“Secondly, looking at the financials and background of providers is more than welcome. But the big problem has been that the regulatory arrangement in place up to now has been inadequate in providing a forensic account of who is the owner of a school, etcetera.

“There needs to be reassurance that QQI has all this extra expertise on board.”

O’Grady said there are also concerns around the potential cost of the IEM.

“So far there has been no mention of cost. QQI remains vague on this area and when we ask, they refer to the 2012 Act which states that it will not be in excess of €50,000.

“We unreservedly welcome the IEM, but we need additional detail on how it will operate as we are not sure that it will be suitable for all our members at MEI and we are not convinced everyone will be able to afford it.

“We would like all this teased out because an Act is no good unless there are the backup and resources to implement it,” he added.

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