The Position of ACELS in Ireland 2016

February 8, 2016

Colleges and businesses familiar with the English language teaching sector in Ireland are all too aware of the ACELS accreditation. This is former accreditation ceased to have legal effect in Ireland with the enactment of the Quality and Qualifications Ireland Act 2012, which came in to force in January 2014. The Act established the now well-known Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) authority which now has responsibility for setting standards of education broadly speaking in Ireland. Part of its remit was to establish the standards for the International Education Mark. The colleges in Ireland who sell courses of study for, in particular, English language education and for students outside the EU will ultimately be required to hold the International Education Mark. This will be a system of validation of the quality of the delivery of programmes by those individual colleges and based on the framework of regulations currently being introduced to improve and enhance the sector. The International Education Mark is expected to be introduced in 2017. We have a separate article about the intervening regulatory framework which is being introduced pending the full roll out of the IEM and this is now known as the Interim List of Eligible Programmes (ILEP).

The Accreditation and Co-Ordination of English Language Schools (ACELS) accreditation was open to applications in Ireland until 2012. Colleges were then advised in 2012 to await the outcome of the soon to be introduced legislation (the 2012 Act). In 2014 the proposed manner of implementation of changes by the Government resulted in the need for a High Court by college by clients facing closure in improper circumstances. This case was taken by Abacus Legal. An examination of the law post 2012 was presented to the Court. The outcome of the case was a judicial determination that the newly established QQI authority did not have the legislative power to continue to administer the ACELS brand. It also concluded that the powers previously vested in the ACELS organisation did not transfer to the QQI Authority. Notwithstanding this legal position the Authority continued to do so.

By way of a background to the ACELS accreditation this was a voluntary code which some colleges in the sector (not the majority) elected to seek as an enhancement of their international reputation and ultimately for the purposes of the marketability of their courses. It was administered by a private organisation which ceased to exist in 2012. The brand was purportedly reinvented then by the QQI authority in 2014 but which subsequently found to have no legal foundation.

The legal position that this has left colleges in is that some colleges now hold the ACELS qualification and others do not. There is no opportunity for colleges in the sector to apply for and secure the ACELS accreditation and it is widely accepted that the accreditation is now defunct albeit it will continue to exist on an administrative basis only pending the full roll out of the International Education Mark in 2017. The presentation to the international market by the Irish Government of any organisation drawing a distinction between colleges holding the no longer available voluntary code, ACELS and colleges not holding the accreditation is therefore legally incorrect. This situation however has persisted to some degree and the perception in the marketplace is that colleges who do not hold the ACELS accreditation are not quality driven organisations who can deliver acceptable standards of education. This is an incorrect perception of the market but has been addressed largely by the implementation of the Interim List of Eligible Programmes.

As can be seen from our separate article on the Interim List each college who has successfully transferred its course to the ILEP has been through a rigorous process of examination and scrutiny of its college systems, qualifications of teachers, its Director of Studies, its premises and the implementation crucially of proper and robust measures to protect students and their fees. Any college therefore who has satisfied the necessary standards and transferred their courses to the Interim List of Eligible Programmes can be seen as having passed scrutiny by the Department of Justice and met the standards required by it for the purposes of delivery of English language courses in Ireland. The Department of Justice will issue study visas to students who purchase courses only from colleges on the ILEP.

The divergence therefore that previously existed between colleges holding the ACELS accreditation and colleges not holding the ACELS accreditation is all but defunct.

The Progressive College Network, which is a representative body that has engaged actively with the Department of Justice has received assurances from the Irish government that the international presentation of “ACELS only colleges” as being the recommended point of study for international students will be remedied. The international market will be correctly informed that the standards required by the Department of Justice for the delivery of English language programmes in particular have been satisfied by colleges currently on the Interim List of Eligible Programmes. ACELS therefore exists in principle only and will continue to do so pending the final introduction of the International Education Mark. The International Education mark will be the ultimate accreditation of all colleges wishing to sell courses to the international sector. Pending its implementation of the IEM the regulations and conditions under the ILEP framework will apply.

Students and agents in the international market therefore can satisfy themselves as to each individual college’s academic proficiency, reputation and crucially whether it has robust and effective student protection arrangement in place. The Protection for Enrolled Learner arrangements (PEL) are interchangeable as to three alternatives which can be operated by any college as follows:

  1. A contractual arrangement with another college where the students of any college which closes will be in a position to complete their studies in another college with whom it has the agreement.
  2. The college itself has in place an insurance bond which covers the student body in the event of a closure for a refund to the students of the fees due to them.
  3. The college facilitates a direct insurance contract between the student and an insurance company for the refund to those students of course fees due to them at the time of closure.

In addition student fees are further protected by all colleges now on the ILEP by virtue of an escrow account arrangement. This means that any student who purchases a course from their home country will have their fees transferred into a third party escrow account where they will remain until that student has attended in Ireland and secured their visa, ready to commence study with the college in question.

The student protection arrangements (referring again to our other article) together with a number of other qualitative guarantees are now in place to ensure all colleges on the ILEP meet the current standards for delivery of quality education required by the Department of Justice pending the full roll out of the IEM.

The concerns raised by the Progressive College Network therefore is that the continued promotion of colleges holding the ACELS accreditation only represents a distortion of the facts and regulatory framework now introduced to the Irish market and the assumptions which will inevitably be drawn by international students concerning all colleges on the Interim List of Eligible Programmes whether they hold the prior voluntary ACELS code or not.

Abacus Legal is a specialist law firm in the field of English language education in Ireland, particularly for the visa required ELT sector. We act for a number of colleges in firstly their transfer to the Interim List of Eligible Programmes and there on-going compliance with the ever evolving regulatory framework. The firm partners the Progressive College Network in the development of standards to be established of colleges in the ELT sector for the purposes of the issue of the International Education Mark.

If you require assistance or if you have any queries in relation to the regulatory framework of ELT colleges in the sector in Ireland please feel free to contact us today for a no obligation consultation and we would be happy to discuss the regulations as they apply to any college involved or seeking to enter the ELT sector.


Source: Abacus Legal