I propose to take Questions Nos. 218 and 219 together.
On Monday 3 December 2018 my Department was informed of the closure of the school referred to by the Deputy. This school, which was a private English language school, is a member of MEI (Marketing English in Ireland), an association of English language schools. I understand that MEI representatives met with the school’s management and affected students on 3rd December 2018 and are continuing to liaise with all relevant parties. MEI are putting the necessary arrangements in place to ensure that students affected by the school's closure will be able to complete the course for which they have enrolled, or a similar course, at another MEI member school. My colleague Minister Mitchell O’Connor and I have also separately met with some of the affected teachers.
The Deputy may be aware that legislation is currently being progressed through the Oireachtas which is intended to substantially strengthen regulation in the English language education sector. Committee Stage of the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill was initiated on 5th December 2018.
This new Bill will establish the International Education Mark (IEM) and a Protection for Enrolled Learners (PEL) Fund. The IEM is a core component of the Government's policy for the English language sector and will provide a full quality framework for the provision of education to international learners in the future. Only those providers who meet the robust quality assurance procedures of Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) will be allowed to carry the Mark.
Once fully implemented, providers must gain authorisation from QQI to use the IEM in order to be eligible to recruit international students. The IEM is a tool to further enhance and sustain the quality of our education system. It also provides learners, or potential learners, with the necessary confidence that providers with the IEM have been quality assured by QQI.
The Bill also contains provisions to provide QQI with additional statutory powers to examine a provider’s financial sustainability and to evaluate a provider’s corporate fitness. These provisions will enable QQI to examine the bona fides of a provider in addition to assessing that the provider has the capacity and capability to implement the quality assurance processes and provide programmes of education and training consistent with the requirements of the Act. All providers, including English language providers, will have to satisfy QQI in relation to issues such as the legal personality, ownership and corporate governance arrangements in addition to examining that adequate financial resources are in place to ensure the viability of these businesses.
Upon enactment, the Bill will also empower QQI to establish a fund for the protection of enrolled learners (PEL). This fund will be resourced by an annual charge from those providers covered by it. The fund will be used to ‘teach out’ a programme in the event that a provider fails to provide a programme. Should this not be possible, the fund will be used to reimburse students for the most recent fees that have been paid.
At Committee Stage reading of the Bill Minister Mitchell O’Connor announced her intention to appoint an experienced mediator to meet with bodies representing employers and employees in the English language education sector to explore the potential for a Registered Employment Agreement to be developed for workers in the English language sector. This will complement the provisions contained in the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Amendment) Bill that are intended to strengthen QQI’s role as a regulator of quality in the English language training sector.