Hundreds of foreign students left in limbo by English language school closures are to be offered alternative programmes at major discounts by other providers.
The initiative has emerged from discussions that followed the closure since April of five colleges in Dublin and Cork, which left students facing huge uncertainty, particularly those who came here on student visas from non-EU countries.
The deal, arranged by a task force set up by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, will see courses specially created by member colleges of Marketing English in Ireland, meaning affected students can complete programmes similar to those they were already taking.
They will be charged €60 a week, a discount of around 70% on the €200 which some cancelled courses had cost, and applications will be taken from next Monday.
The Irish Council for International Students, which was represented on the task force, said that while students now had a clear alternative for language study, the idea of paying again for something they had already paid for seemed unjust. It has been more complicated to make arrangements for students on courses other than English language programmes, and efforts are continuing to decide what alternative provision can be made for them.
The college closures followed restrictions placed by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service on their visa-issuing powers in light of inspections to check compliance with requirements.
One of the biggest concerns of the affected students was that their ability to work in Ireland was linked to their attendance in college, but the INIS had given assurances that employment restrictions would not be placed on them for the duration of their original student visas.
According to a new website set up to provide information for students — www.studenttaskforce.ie — arrangements have been agreed with ICOS to extend immigration permission to September 1 for any affected student whose permission was due to lapse before that date. This should allow time to arrange a placement on one of the alternative courses, with a view to extending their immigration status until they finish their studies.
“While this website is a positive start, there is much work still to be done to turn it into a comprehensive resource which will address the many issues which displaced students are uncertain about,” said ICOS director Sheila Power.
Any students who had not yet travelled to Ireland for courses at one of the closed colleges are being advised to contact the agent who organised the placement, or their credit card company, about a refund of any fees paid. Mr Quinn and Ms Fitzgerald expect a final report from the task force soon.
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