Interim List of Eligible Programmes in Ireland/ Legal Perspective

Colleges involved in the sale of English language course to students from outside the EU under Irish law require visas for those students to come and study. There are a number of colleges in Ireland in this particular sector. Those familiar with the framework of regulation are acquainted with the Internationalisation Register. This was the prior register which was administered by the Department of Justice and which Register contained the list of courses and colleges who could sell courses to students requiring visas to come and study. Colleges applied to have courses approved and put on the Register and on completion of this exercise could market their course for sale to students form outside the EU/EEA and who wished to come to study English in Ireland. This regime has now been replaced by the Interim List of Eligible Programmes (ILEP) which came into effect in Ireland on the 20th of January 2016.
 
The Government of Ireland announced the upcoming ILEP in July of 2015 and its date for implementation moved from the 1st of October, to the 1st of December 2015 and was finally implemented on the 20th of January 2016.
 
Colleges whose courses were listed on the former Internationalisation Register, now replaced, completed applications in 2015 for transfer of their courses to the ILEP. The ILEP is seen widely as the initial step taken by the Government of Ireland to enhance the delivery of English language teaching in Ireland as a quality educational product. It is part of the broader government strategy to establish the reputation of Ireland in the delivery of in particular English language studies and indeed higher education to the international market. Ultimately all colleges will be required to hold the International Education Mark.
 
Controversies in the Irish market in 2014 precipitated the move by the Minister for Justice to enhance regulation in the sector pending the full roll out of the International Education Mark.
 
The measures that have been introduced are accepted as the fundamental improvements required by the Department of Justice. Colleges wishing to transfer their programmes to the Interim List of Eligible Programmes have had to satisfy the Department of Justice/Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) that they had made the necessary changes to meet this enhanced regulatory regime. Examples of the measures that were introduced are listed as follows:

  1. Fundamentally the government introduced “protection for enrolled learners” arrangements (PEL arrangements). These are arrangements that the Government has introduced to implement to protect students in the event of college closures. A number of college closures in Ireland resulted in students losing significant amounts of money and the protection for enrolled learner arrangements are designed to reduce the risk if not eliminate the possibility of lost student fees in the event of a college closure. There are three alternatives:
    • A contractual PEL arrangement with another college or other colleges to the effect that all students from a closed college will be taken by the other colleges with whom that college has an arrangement in place. In other words students of a closed college can finish their course of study in another participating PEL college. This is common amongst ACELS colleges.
    • A student protection bond, which is a specific insurance policy covering the refund of student’s fees in the event of a college closure. This is typically a bond covering the college itself or
    • A direct insurance contract facilitated by each member college but ultimately for the benefit of students who can then apply directly to the insurance policy administrator (e.g. O’Driscoll O’Neill) for the refund of the fees due to them.
  2. Students to have yet to attend for study in Ireland but who have purchased courses have their fees protected by escrow accounts operated by colleges on the Interim List of Eligible Programmes. Colleges wishing to sell courses to students must now have their fees paid into a third party escrow account where those fees must remain until that student has landed in the country and obtained their visa for the commencement of their course of study with that particular college.
  3. The inspection of college premises by inspectors appointed by the Department of Justice to approve those centres of the purposes of the delivery of educational programmes and other elements e.g. to ensure fire safety compliance, student facilities for study and relaxation, teachers rooms etc.
  4. The approval of the standards of education by setting the minimum standard of qualification for the teachers delivering programmes for every college on the Interim List. Teachers must have met the required standard of CELTA recognised qualifications to be in a position to deliver English language education in ILEP colleges.
  5. The establishment of a maximum student-teacher ratio of 1:15 and classes between the hours of 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. only.
  6. The Director of Studies in each college must have a minimum of five years continuous education in the delivery of programmes for the English language teaching sector.
  7. Each college must have a proper and transparent attendance recording system so that the attendance of each student is monitored for the purposes of compliance with their visa.
  8. An assessment by the Department of Justice of the colleges operating systems or its quality assurance (QA) framework to ensure that the systems operated by the college meet with the standards required by the Department of Justice for the bona fide delivery of a quality educational experience.
  9. Each student has been set a minimum attendance requirement of 85% in order to be in compliance with the terms of their study visa. The colleges have been tasked with enforcing this compliance on the frontlines by expelling students who fail to maintain adequate attendance. Colleges must first operate a clear and transparent warning system advising their students well in advance that their falling attendance levels will put their college place at risk. Colleges are further compelled to notify the Department of Justice of the failed attendance of any student on their course. Students who are expelled from colleges must be expelled on foot of clear warnings (at least two) both of which must be evidenced in writing.
  10. Colleges must offer a system of compulsory registration of all students for exams of their accrediting body or an approved examination centre e.g. IELTS, TIE or Cambridge at the time of the purchase of their course.
  11. Students who purchase English language courses must be clearly advised of the full costs of study including medical insurance, student insurance and exam registration fees at the outset.

The Department of Justice has altered the nature of the student visa itself to the effect that it is now a twenty-five week study, eight week holiday visa (previously it was the twenty-six weeks study, twenty-six week holidays). They have further altered the terms of the visa to the effect that students who wish to work whilst studying in Ireland can work a maximum of twenty hours a week while studying and can work forty hours a week during their eight week period provided that that is during the seasonal summer months only.
 
The introduction of the ILEP framework and regulation has to a large extent harmonised the standards of delivery of education across the sector in a manner similar to the ACELS system of the accreditation. The new measures are borrowed to some extent from the regulations of the former ACELS organisation.
 
Previously a distinction was to be drawn between colleges holding the voluntary accreditation, the Accreditation and Co-Ordination of English Language Schools (ACELS) and colleges who did not opt for the voluntary code, commonly referred to as non-ACELS colleges. This divergence has now been largely addressed and the final step in the full harmonisation of the regulatory standards of the industry will come with the final introduction of the International Education Mark expected in 2017. You will see our separate article on the legal position of the ACELS accreditation in Ireland in 2016 following the introduction of the Interim List of Eligible Programmes.
 
Abacus Legal is a specialist law firm in the field of English language education specifically in the visa required student sector. We have acted for a number of colleges as part of their application for transfer from the Internationalisation Register to the new regime, the ILEP and are pleased to advise a successful transfer of every Client college with which we acted. We have a particular expertise in the area of ELT regulation for colleges advertising courses for sale to non-EU/EEA students.
 
If you would like to discuss any aspect of the Interim List, regulation of colleges in the sector or the establishment of a new college in the ELT English language sector then please contact us today to arrange a no obligation consultation and we will be happy to meet with you and advise of the appropriate steps that must be taken, the particular nuances of the framework of regulation and the preparation of your college for the introduction of the International Education Mark.

Contact
Martin Moloney
e: info@abacuslegal.ie