Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Questions (540)

Andrew Doyle

Question:

540. Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will outline the current pilot visa scheme that was awarded to Marketing English in Ireland; if he will detail the circumstances and decisions regarding the awarding of the pilot visa scheme to MEI and if public procurement was followed; the date on which this scheme came into effect, the date on which it will end: if and when the scheme will be reviewed by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32153/13]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

References to these pilot programmes being "awarded" are not correct. These programmes were not awarded to Marketing English in Ireland (MEI) and in that regard there are no public procurement issues arising.

It is Government policy to develop Ireland's international education services industry, of which the English language tuition sector is an important component. The strategy is overseen by the High Level Group on International Education on which my Department is represented, as indeed is MEI, in its capacity as the largest umbrella body for the language schools. My officials will also regularly meet representative bodies and indeed individual institutions.

At different points MEI highlighted the need to develop the Turkish market for language courses of which Ireland had a negligible share and also to see what might be done in terms of creating a fresh impetus in the very large Chinese market. My Department was supportive of these developments. In 2011 and 2012 pilot programmes in respect of English Language were developed jointly between the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) and MEI for the Turkish and Chinese markets respectively.

Extensive reform of student immigration had taken place in recent years aimed at tackling the abuse of this channel as a facilitator for economic migration. A key element of the pilot programmes therefore was the focus not on numbers but on quality. They sought to target high quality, motivated English language students and aimed to develop the markets in a sustainable way. The programmes focus on a particular student profile, i.e. students with a clearly defined study plan to attend university, university graduates and executive level employees in firms where the candidate's position would benefit from strong English language skills. The programmes are designed to significantly contribute to the development of Ireland’s reputation as a premier destination for Chinese and Turkish students to achieve a high standard in English language education. Special administrative arrangements were put in place for the programmes with MEI, including monitoring student progress.

These programmes represent additional student immigration offerings but all of the normal student immigration channels for language and other courses remain open also. My Department is also open to similar pilot programmes from non-MEI schools or consortia who can come forward with credible programmes focussed on the same or equivalent student profile and with a commitment to quality service provision.

The programmes are at an early stage and it is important that they be given sufficient time to grow and develop before a final review is undertaken. However, progress under these programmes is reviewed on an ongoing basis.