English language schools urgently need clarity on recruiting new students or risk putting up to 8,000 teaching jobs at risk.
David O’Grady, CEO of Marketing English in Ireland (MEI), says he has no answers for global agents looking to book international students at the Irish schools he represents. Under current Covid guidelines, these private schools can reopen but they cannot enroll new students.
âWe have been allowed to reopen for face-to-face classes with existing students that we already teach online, but we cannot welcome new students from overseas,â said David O’Grady. âAgents and groups keep calling me asking when are we going to restart. They don’t understand why a tourist can come to Ireland, but they can’t confirm a booking for an overseas student.
âThere can be a three to five month lag between entering the market and recruiting new students. We would be satisfied with a gradual reopening plan. We just need more clarity in Taoiseach’s next statement on August 31st. The sector supports thousands of jobs.
Overall, the ELE (English Language Education) sector supports around 8,000 jobs. MEI is the largest association of ELE schools in Ireland, representing over 70 member schools, currently barred from attracting 674 students per month for the remainder of 2021.
These are among the tens of thousands of international students who are not allowed to study at Irish universities.
David O’Grady says the ELE sector has been abandoned by the government, with no roadmap for reopening. Its language schools are prohibited from recruiting students in class groups of seven students on average (maximum 15).
It contrasts this with English programs at universities which are expected to host conferences at full capacity (up to 500 students in an auditorium) from September, while the ELE sector has not received any reopening date towards which work.
“Without any evidence or supporting data, language students have been identified as somehow a greater risk than university students or tourists,” said Mr. O’Grady. âThe government has restricted international recruitment and blocked visa processing for English-speaking students, a practice MEI considers discriminatory and unfounded.
âWe are not convinced that an EU citizen can be prevented from coming to take courses here. Once they go through the checks at the airport, they are rightfully here.
âYou can get a head-to-toe tattoo, you can be among 50,000 people attending a GAA game at Croke Park, but you can’t be an international student attending a class at an ELE school that follows all the guidelines. HSE’s strict Covid rules. . “
Mr. O’Grady says ELE providers have been in survival mode for almost 17 months. These schools have lost up to 95% of their income in 2020 and 2021 so far schools like ISI Dublin.
Brian Burns, ISI Dublin, said: âWe have spent months working on hundreds of protocols and policies so that we can bring students back to our school.
âWe have invested thousands of dollars to prepare our building for our reopening in September. It is heartbreaking and deeply frustrating to see tourists and university students arriving in the country as we are told to remain closed to new students. ”
Tour operators, host families and accommodation providers are also affected by the continuing uncertainty for the ELE sector.
Beata Kostkowska, from Dublin-based coach rental company Dualway Group, said: âInternational students help support jobs in our company and in our industry. They provide a vital source of revenue for our business when the school bus side of our fleet would normally be off-road. ”
MEI member schools have Department of Higher and Higher Education Protocols in place covering all aspects of a student’s stay in Ireland and their time in school. Schools worked on advisory notes, checklists, protocols and coping frameworks.
Schools have spent thousands of euros to adapt their buildings to comply with the ELE sector’s covid-19 safety measures. However, due to the ban on international recruiting, schools across the country are almost empty.
David O’Grady says that if government restrictions continue to hamper the resumption of international recruitment and the reopening of the ELE sector, many schools will collapse and the jobs created and supported by the sector may be lost forever.
“Before the pandemic, Ireland had the highest number of international language students per capita, far exceeding its weight internationally,” said David O’Grady. “With continued support and a clear timeline, there is no doubt that ELE in Ireland can be successful in better rebuilding, bouncing back and reclaiming Ireland’s place as a world leader in English education.”