Ireland: new bill to pave way for long-awaited International Education Mark

Published 16/05/2017

Plans to introduce a long-awaited International Education Mark in Ireland may finally be realised, as part of a raft of proposed measures to bolster the quality of teaching and boost the value of the sector.

The IEM, a stamp of quality that providers will be required to have in order to recruit international students, is included in a draft outline of the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Amendment) Bill, which was published on May 15.

Also included in the document is a promise to clamp down on ‘essay mills’ that sell completed essays and dissertations to students and to strengthen the role of the national higher and further education regulator, Quality and Qualifications Ireland.

“Only providers who meet the robust quality assurance procedures of QQI will be allowed to carry the Mark”

The document also proposes a Learner Protection Fund that will ensure international students can complete their course at another school if their college closes.

“This is part of our wider plan to make Ireland’s education and training service the best in Europe within a decade. And clearly standards and reputation are vital to that,” Education Minister Richard Bruton said in an interview with RTÉ.

Originally set to be introduced in 2014, the International Education Mark is now slated to roll out in 2019.

“Only providers who meet the robust quality assurance procedures of QQI will be allowed to carry the Mark,” Bruton explained.

“This will benefit both education and training providers and students by highlighting those providers who are delivering high quality educational services.”

The IEM is a “significant part” of the government’s International Education Strategy, which aims to grow the value of the sector to €2.1bn, the minister added.

The government has already taken steps towards the introduction of the IEM, including the publication of an Interim List of Eligible Programmes authorised to enrol international students, all of which must adhere to the Code of Practice that will eventually be used as the basis for the IEM.

“There is no doubt that these measures will help to protect international students,” commented Shane Ormsby, founder and director of IBAT College Dublin.

“These improvements have already been evidenced through the reduction of learners being disadvantaged through provider closures [since the ILEP has been introduced],” he added.

As well outlining its implementation, the draft legislation also extends the IEM’s remit to providers that teach non-EU students outside of Ireland, such as online and blended-learning providers and those with overseas bases.

“This partial application is new and should broaden the reach to the IEM for providers, as well as providing further assurances to learners,” Ormsby noted.

However, whether or not the IEM will in fact come into play in the next couple of years depends on the bill being enacted, which Bruton has said he expects to happen in 2018.

But with a minority government in power, a state of political deadlock in which few bills are passing through parliament means “the bill is in many ways an exercise in aspiration,” according to David O’Grady, CEO of Marketing English in Ireland, a membership organisation whose schools teach 90% of Ireland’s English language students.

“This bill is joining a very long queue and this queue isn’t going to get shorter,” he said.

“This bill is joining a very long queue and this queue isn’t going to get shorter”

A general election is expected to happen by the end of 2018, O’Grady noted, making it “very unlikely” that the bill will be enacted within the next two years.

O’Grady did, however, acknowledge that unlike previous iterations, the IEM as it is described in the draft legislation published this week does distinguish between tertiary and English language providers.

“Our fear always was that we were being shoehorned into the same categories and the same requirements as universities,” noted O’Grady.

Meanwhile, the introduction of a Learner Protection Fund for international students would be welcome news for the sector, O’Grady said.

However, the proposed legislation suggests that the Learner Protection Fund will apply to only students from outside the EU and EEA, noted Declan Millar, founder of international education business HSI.

“The Learner Protection Fund is to be welcomed as it will provide assurance to prospective students with a clearly defined demographic (adults from non-EU/EEA),” he said.

Like many other providers, Millar is reserving judgement on how the bill in its completed form will impact the sector.

“A bill like this, which tried to cover all of the ground of a large section of the education community, is bound to be both generally inclusive and specifically exclusive – it will cover all sectors but probably not in a way that is specific enough to each individual sector of the education and training bodies here,” he noted.

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