MEI, the largest association of English Language Education school and colleges in Ireland has responded to the needs of non-EU students who having come to Ireland to learn English while combining work to fund their stay, have been stranded in the awful circumstance of the Covid-19 pandemic. These students are a mainstay in the English Language Education (ELE), in Ireland.
This response entailed utilising participation in government led groups and working parties to promote the welfare needs of the more than 10,000 students concerned.
The first priority was to promote their inclusion in the governments special Covid-19 Unemployment Benefit to secure their safety and welfare.
The second priority was to seek extension of their Visas to remain in Ireland to complete their studies.
The government response was both immediate and generous.
The Covid-19 Unemployment payment was made accessible through the Department of Social Protection in order to replace lost earned income as part of the necessary funding of the students’ stay in Ireland.
Visa extensions were provided through the Department of Justice.
The schools and colleges immediately set about establishing online teaching platforms to enable course completion. These platforms are continuing to develop and are likely to form a key component of a blended learning ( a combination of online and classroom tuition), as a long term part of the English Language Teaching infrastructure in Ireland.
Those students who returned to their native countries without completing their courses have been provided with credit notes so that they complete their courses at a future time.
For those who have remained, online teaching is being provided as only available alternative.
Against this background, the MEI CEO, has supported member schools and colleges in rejecting demands for course refunds. “These demands are both unreasonable and unrealistic”, David O’Grady has said.
“The Government has generously provided both practical and financial support for students who have become stranded.
The schools and colleges have made every reasonable effort to ensure that students receive the education that they have paid for.
This is in the face of very real challenges that every business in the country is experiencing in maintaining their operations without income.
Money invested in attracting students for the peak summer season is completely lost, premises still have to be maintained and paid for.
Premises will require remodelling for physical distancing if schools and colleges are to reopen and reboot. ”, Mr O’Grady asserts.
MEI states that demands for student refunds are completely unrealistic, both because they are altogether unreasonable, and because funds are simply not available in an ELE Sector that is desperately trying to survive.