To date, the English language sector has been regulated on a voluntary basis by the Advisory Council for English Language Schools, a company limited by guarantee which operated under the aegis of my Department.
As I announced last year, under the new framework for promotion and regulation of international education, the forthcoming amalgamated qualifications agency, and, in the interim, the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI), will have responsibility for regulation of international education programmes. As part of this, the staff and functions of ACELS transferred to the NQAI on 1 January 2010. The NQAI, under the ACELS brand, which continues to have strong international recognition, will now provide the voluntary quality assurance and inspection scheme for private sector English language schools. Schools which comply with the ACELS quality assurance and inspection scheme are approved by my Department for the purpose of providing English language programmes in the private sector. The conditions for recognition of schools are available on the website www.acels.ie.
In April 2005 my Department established an Internationalisation Register which sets out programmes approved for the purpose of access to work by students who are citizens from outside the EU, EEA and Switzerland. Under the immigration regime, such students will only be given access to work if they are attending full time programmes on the Register. The criteria for inclusion require that the programme be full-time, at least 15 hours per week for a minimum of 25 weeks, and lead to a nationally recognised award, or its international equivalent. Language programmes which meet the duration criteria and are approved under the ACELS quality assurance and inspection scheme are also eligible for inclusion on the Register, provided they offer assessment for students at the end of the programme using recognised language proficiency test instruments. The criteria for inclusion are included in an Information Note, along with the Internationalisation Register, on the Department's website at www.education.ie. The register is updated on a monthly basis. Responsibility for the register will shortly be transferred to the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland.
Government recently approved the General Scheme of the Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill, which provides for the amalgamation of organisations involved in qualifications and quality assurance in higher and further education and training (i.e. the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council and the Further Education and Training Awards Council). The Bill will provide for the setting up by the new agency of a Quality Mark and Code of Practice for the provision of educational services to international students. Education and training providers, including language schools, will be able to apply for a Quality Mark based on their compliance with the Code of Practice, which will cover such issues as treatment of fees and support services for international students. Additional measures will apply to providers of English language courses.