The former minister for education in Ireland, Batt O’Keeffe, was also embroiled in the latest scandal and has since resigned his position as president of Eden College – one of the schools affected and also implicated in a testing scandal at its sister school in the UK, Eden College International.
Tighe said that industry sources have indicated that there are “over a dozen schools” with a reputation for falsifying records
Following the report, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) and Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) announced the suspension and have opened an investigation into Eden College, National Media College, Millennium College and the Business & Computer Training Institute.
Further action may be taken, following “serious allegations regarding the practices of some colleges which offer English language education to non-European Economic Area (EEA) national students,” INIS announced in a statement.
An undercover reporter found evidence that “some international language schools in Ireland will agree to falsify attendance records for students”, allowing them to circumvent visa regulations requiring them to attend 80% of their classes so they can work longer hours.
Marketing English in Ireland (MEI) CEO David O’Grady told The PIE News: “The MEI Board and MEI member schools are happy that the Justice authorities are at last wrestling with what is a very serious problem in the ELT sector in Ireland.”
O’Grady explained that Ireland’s reputation as a study destination has been “greatly hampered” by a growing number of institutions offering extremely low fees and, “under the guise of being educators”, acting as funnels for migrant workers.
“A conspiracy has been afoot: the school says ‘we’ll pretend we’re a school and you pretend you’re students and all will be well’,” he added.
The Irish Council for International Students (ICOS) welcomed the suspensions, saying that it would serve as a warning for students to “look elsewhere” when deciding where to apply.
“ICOS and other stakeholders have long been aware of problems in the system which have resulted in unsuspecting international students finding themselves registered for courses of doubtful value and poor quality, attending so-called colleges, often in grim locations with poor facilities,” ICOS Director Sheila Power said. “A glossy website can hide some ugly truths.”
Announcement on the INIS website
The investigation was prompted by a tip off from a staff member at one of the institutions who was “alarmed” at how the school was being run and how her boss “seemed to have no qualms about giving fake attendance records to many students”, Mark Tighe, one of the journalists leading the investigation, told The PIE News.
“We decided to send an undercover reporter in to see if they would make these promises face to face with a person they’d never met before,” Tighe said. “We found they were.”
During a meeting at Eden College, an agent claiming to represent two schools told the reporter, who was posing as a Pakistani consultant, “Maybe, if the student is at 50% to 60% [of classes] we can increase that by another 30%.”
Speaking with The PIE News, Tighe said that industry sources have indicated that there are “over a dozen schools” with a reputation for falsifying records.
“I really believe what we have uncovered is just the tip of a wide scale abuse of the student visa system in Ireland,” he added.
“Many small, private colleges lie essentially outside of the country’s current, limited regulation mechanisms”
None of the suspended colleges were accredited by Accreditation and Co-ordination of English Language Services (ACELS), the body responsible for regulating Ireland’s English language sector.
Eden College had its ACELS accreditation withdrawn earlier this year, after a BBC documentary uncovered evidence of fraudulent testing for the TOEIC exam taking place at a test centre run by Eden College International in London, which is owned by the same parent company.
“Unfortunately, many small, private colleges lie essentially outside of the country’s current, limited regulation mechanisms,” Power at ICOS noted.
Ireland is set to introduce an International Education Mark (IEM) later this year to enable international students to better understand whether an institution is reputable or not – a measure that is “urgently needed”, she added.