12th May, 2015


The recent closure of a number of private English language colleges has again highlighted the wholly unacceptable manner in which part of our international education industry has been operating. It is self-evident that for some of the businesses in this sector, the primary service on sale is the facilitation of immigration and educational courses are a means of delivering that. Many of the students and teachers unfortunately become innocent victims of these disreputable enterprises.

Whilst there are many genuine language schools operating entirely legitimately, the efforts of these schools and of the State in promoting and regulating a valuable sector of the economy is being severely undermined by a small number of rogue operators. These operators have shown scant regard for immigration rules and no regard for the welfare of genuine students.

The first concern for genuine students is to reassure them about their immigration status. All existing immigration permissions of students in recently closed colleges will be honoured in full and the students will be entitled to work in accordance with the rules for student migration. In remains the case that there are many good and reputable schools that can provide a quality course and some are offering special deals for those displaced in the closures.

Ultimately the only solution to sorting out the problems in the language sector is an extensive reform programme. Reforms announced jointly by the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Education and Science, who are working closely together, in September 2014 were delayed by a High Court ruling in January 2015. Taking account of the High Court ruling, amendments to the reforms have now been finalised and will be brought to Government by Minister Fitzgerald and Minister O’Sullivan for approval very shortly. In addition to the reforms outlined last September, further measures are being proposed to increase the protection for students and strengthen governance of the industry.

The unequivocal message is that there is no place for unscrupulous operators who have no regard for immigration rules or their students. Reform of the sector will be to the benefit of genuine students and teachers who deserve better and the majority of providers who have built up legitimate professional businesses over the years based on the quality of the services they provide.

Genuine students and teachers can and must play an important role in cleaning up the industry. They are on the ground and well placed to provide on a confidential basis early warning of bad practice, misrepresentation, financial difficulty and risks to student welfare.

Prospective students are strongly advised to carefully consider the college at which they are seeking to enrol. Students should fully satisfy themselves of the Protection for Learner arrangements in place at the college and should seek details of those arrangements in writing.