A quality mark system to help restore Ireland’s reputation for educating foreign students should be in place by the end of the year, it was claimed today.
The Government plans to reform the foreign student market, turning it into a €1.2bn industry by raising standards and adopting a strict visa entry regime.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern accepted the country’s standing had been hit hard by rogue operators who effectively lured foreign pupils here for questionable courses.
“There will be better inspections, more coordinated inspections,” he said.
“Because there is no doubt the reputation of these (schools) generally has been somewhat damaged by these bogus schools.”
The Government’s 10 point plan aims to increase international student numbers in higher education by 50% to 38,000 and in English language schools by 25% to 120,000 over the next four years.
It is also targeting an increase in the proportion of full-time international students in higher education taking research or taught postgraduate courses to 35% from 23%.
Achieving the plan could be worth €1.2bn to the economy – up from €900m.
The aim of the initiative is to focus on and attract high-end, quality, legitimate and genuine students looking to study in Ireland.
Only schools who secure the quality mark for standards will be allowed to educate foreign students.
Mr Ahern said the Garda has been adept at tracking down bogus operators in the education sector but warned that the new approach would not be a “one-size-fits-all”.
“On the one hand we have to ensure that we eke out the abuses, on the other hand we have to be fair to people and encourage people. There’s a huge potential here for this country,” the minister said.
Tánaiste and Education Minister Mary Coughlan said legislation should be in place by end of the year to set up the new quality mark.
She added: “What we are saying is that if you don’t achieve the quality mark, you do not participate in the new visa programme.
“That is the enticement and the encouragement.”
Taoiseach Brian Cowen joined the Tanaiste and Justice Minister for the launch in Dublin.
“Our aim is for Ireland to be regarded as a world-leading provider of international education,” Mr Cowen said.
“This strategy and new student immigration regime sets out a shared vision for how Ireland can compete to the highest international standards and recruit talented students from overseas.”