Thursday, 17 June 2021

Questions (370)

James O'Connor


370. Deputy James O'Connor asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if he will report on the return of English language schools in view of the reopening of international travel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32567/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

In March 2020, my Department established a distinct Working Group with key stakeholders for the English Language Education (ELE) sector to manage the significant impact of the pandemic on ELE. This Working Group is comprised of the sectoral representatives of students, staff and providers alongside representatives of relevant Government Departments such as the Department of Justice, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Social Protection.

This Working Group is planning for a limited, safe return of on-site activity, which comprises small group in-person learning to cater exclusively for needs of the existing cohort of ELE students currently in the State. This approach for on-site activity is consistent with small group learning across further, higher and adult education. To enable this to happen, all existing restrictions and public health guidance with appropriate protective measures and limited congregation will be followed supported by reopening protocols and an adaptation framework that are aligned with public health guidelines to facilitate and ensure the safe return to classroom activity for this cohort of students. The Working Group has worked collaboratively to develop these sectoral reopening protocols and supporting materials and this work is now nearing finalisation.

This approach notes the sector is much reduced with estimates placing student numbers at less than 10,000 currently in the State in comparison to pre-pandemic levels where the sector has capacity to facilitate approximately 200,000 foreign learners annually.

Prospective ELE learners in the State not previously enrolled and students who are not currently in the country are not included in these planned on site activities.

ELE providers have been advised that there remains no basis for the recruitment of new international students who might travel to the country at this time. However, the initial resumption of in-person activity will represent a key step on the pathway to recovery for the ELE sector in Ireland. My Department will continue to engage with ELE stakeholders as this sector moves, aligned with public health advice, including any such advice in relation to international travel, towards its full re-opening and continues on a path to recovery.