Only 10 inspections have been carried out on English language schools despite promises of closer scrutiny following multiple closures and the disappearance of students’ money.
A new quality assurance scheme, the International Education Mark, another promise in the wake of the scandal, is also delayed; its introduction is now “anticipated” some time in 2018.
Reform of the industry, which attracts thousands of foreign students to private-run operations in Ireland every year, was pledged after a spate of closures in 2014 that left students without deposits and fees and in breach of their work-study visas.
As of January this year, prospective students could only apply for a visa if the school they planned to attend was accepted on to the Department of Justice’s interim list of eligible programmes (ILEP).
To get on to the ILEP, schools had to comply with tightened requirements on transparency of ownership, teacher qualifications, attendance rates, compulsory examination policies, and class sizes among other specifications — all monitored by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service.
They were told they had to hold separate accounts to safeguard advance payments by students. At the height of the scandal, which saw 17 schools close, some students arrived in Ireland to find their school no longer existed and that the fees they had paid from home were gone.
Inclusion on the ILEP was “contingent on ongoing compliance” with the requirements, said the Department of Education, and schools would be subject to “unannounced inspections, spot checks, and other monitoring of compliance”.
The department said just 10 inspections were undertaken this year despite there being at least 125 schools, ranging from large, established institutions to small, family-run operations.
The department said those inspected were found to be “broadly compliant” but some had been directed to carry out improvements. One provider, which offered one course, was removed from the ILEP.
Sheila Power, director of the Irish Council for International Students, was surprised at how few inspections had been carried out.
“It does sound low to me but they must have satisfied themselves otherwise. They request a lot of documentation now from the colleges so that’s probably what they’re doing in terms of monitoring,” she said.
There was another closure in September. While students already attending courses were accommodated in other schools, a small number of students who had paid deposits but not yet arrived in Ireland have been left out of pocket. “There is a slight gap in the protections there that we’re not happy about but it is being addressed,” said Ms Power.
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