Tuesday, 22 March 2022
Department of Education and Skills
726. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the steps he is taking to ensure interim list of eligible programmes, ILEP, rules are adequately enforced; if he will bring forward proposals to regulate agencies that sell English language courses in the State and provide greater levels of learner protection; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14750/22]
Issues regarding overseas travel agencies have previously been brought to the attention of my Department. These agencies are privately owned and primarily operate in other jurisdictions arranging study and travel options for prospective International Higher Education (HE) and English language education (ELE) students to many countries including Ireland. These agencies act as intermediaries between prospective students and predominantly private ELE and HE providers, who secure payments for courses and assist students with travel, accommodation, and visa requirements.
As this is principally a private sector activity and a matter of private contract between the parties involved the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science does not have a role in these matters. There is presently no national regulation of such agencies as many entities of this type are based in other jurisdictions and operate outside of the State.
Education providers in Ireland wishing to recruit non-EEA students are required to be listed on the ILEP (the Interim List of Eligible Programmes - the list of education programmes considered to justify the granting of permission to students to live and work in Ireland). The ILEP is managed by the Department of Justice in conjunction with the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.
A condition of an ILEP listing is a requirement for education providers to operate an 'escrow' type account with a bank or financial institution regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland. Providers are required to hold funds on behalf of prospective students pending the outcome of their application for a visa. Where the visa decision is positive the funds are transferred to the provider. If the visa application is refused the funds (less any pre-agreed charges) are refunded to the student.
The Government is taking further steps to strengthen the regulation of the English language sector. The Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Act 2019 contains provisions to provide for the establishment of a new national Learner Protection Fund and also the International Education Mark (IEM).
The new national Learner Protection Fund will be established and administered by Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), the national agency with responsibility for external quality assurance and qualifications across the further, higher and adult education sectors. The fund will be used to ‘teach out’ a programme in the event that a provider fails to provide a programme. Should this not be possible, the fund will be used to reimburse students for the most recent fees that have been paid.
The International Education Mark (IEM) is a key component of the Irish Government’s policy for the English language education sector and is intended to provide a quality framework for the provision of education to international learners. To obtain the IEM providers will have to demonstrate compliance with requirements on corporate fitness, quality assurance and the protection of enrolled learners, alongside key criteria and practices surrounding the recruitment and admission of international students, information provision, student welfare, cultural awareness and academic support provisions. In addition, providers will also be required to satisfy conditions relating to the recruitment, training and the cessation of employment of staff.
This Department is currently working with QQI to develop and implement the key precursor measures that are necessary to facilitate the introduction of the Learner Protection Fund and the IEM and it is the intention that substantial progress will be made on advancing this work in 2022.