By Sue Hackett
In Ireland the recognition scheme for English language centres has always been run by the state. Acels (Accreditation and Coordination of English Language Services) is responsible for quality assurance, while the newly established Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) administers the scheme.
Acels recognises approximately 95 ELT organisations, ranging from those operating all year round to independent holiday course providers, as well as further and higher education institutions with ELT sections.
The sector has continued to grow and diversify throughout 2012–13, reflecting international market trends. In particular, there has been a rise in the number and range of courses on offer to learners in preparation for degree courses in Ireland.
The state has always valued the English language sector, and supports it through a number of initiatives. Both the national marketing strategy and the immigration regime incorporate the sector, and the work of representative body Marketing English in Ireland is also supported. Because ELT is such a vital element of what Ireland offers international students, it forms an integral part of the government’s international education strategy 2010–15, Investing in Global Relationships, which aims to increase the number of English-language students by 25 per cent to 120,000.
Last November, with the implementation of the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012, the four agencies responsible for the development of the National Framework of Qualifications – the quality assurance of Irish education and training and the making of certain awards at post-secondary level – were merged into the new QQI. Acels was part of this merger.
Currently the Acels scheme of inspection and recognition for English language teaching organisations is being maintained under QQI, but we are developing a new Irish International Education Mark (IEM) in line with legislative responsibilities. This is an integral part of the government’s internationalisation strategy for high-quality education and training for all international learners coming to Ireland, including English language students. It is likely that certain criteria currently met by providers for the purposes of Acels recognition will be subsumed into the development of the IEM.
Since May we have held a public consultation (see www.qqi.ie) on a policy development programme which includes the IEM. The recognised sector is active in ensuring a high-quality educational experience for all its learners, and is responding to proposed changes aimed at expanding and invigorating quality ELT provision.
The IEM can provide the sector with a quality mark which will become statutory, and which will set and maintain a high standard of quality and governance for all applying organisations. It will also introduce a code of practice, to include requirements on protection of enrolled learners, collection of fees, and tax compliance by providers. Follow the QQI website for the latest developments on the IEM and the rest of our policy development programme.
Sue Hackett is manager – review and enhancement (international education) at QQI.