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Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
27th Jan 2021

Ireland’s ELT associations announce merger

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • Ireland’s language schools were previously split between two membership associations, Marketing English in Ireland (MEI) and the Independent Language Schools Group (ILSG), and are now united as a single peak body
  • MEI and ILSG executives are confident the merger will make it easier for agents to recruit international students to Ireland for English-language studies
  • More than 150,000 students attend ELT programmes in Ireland every year; the sector’s total value to the Irish economy is estimated at roughly €900 million

Ireland’s two national associations of English language schools, Marketing English in Ireland (MEI) and the Independent Language Schools Group (ILSG), have announced a merger. Pending further strategic planning and branding efforts, the new association will operate under the MEI brand and comprises 65 MEI schools and 20+ ILSG schools.

The merger is designed to strengthen the overall sector and provide a united, compelling voice for Irish language schools both within Ireland and abroad. Colm O’Byrne, Chair of MEI and Director of ATC Language Schools, says,

“Our sector is at a critical point of reset following a traumatic 10 months, but through collaboration we can rebuild and strengthen for the future. MEI will have a stronger voice both domestically and internationally with the addition of the many excellent schools of ILSG.”

Merger relieves accreditation roadblock

The merger also addresses a structural quandary that has troubled the ELT sector in Ireland for some time. ILSG’s creation in 2019 was borne of a situation in which MEI had previously required that all language schools be accredited by the ACELS (Accreditation and Co-ordination of English Language Services) scheme operated under the Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) framework in order to qualify for membership. But ACELS has not accepted new applications for some time, which meant in effect that MEI could not accept new members. That issue underlies the quick growth of ILSG’s membership (more than had 20 language schools had joined in 2020).

Now combined, MEI no longer requires schools to be accredited by ACELS and awaits the long-anticipated launch of the International Education Mark (IEM) scheme which is to replace ACELS. The IEM has been in development for years and legislation is still being drafted to bring it into force.

A stronger brand will help recruit students

Steven O’Dwyer, Co-Founder of Apollo Language Centre and Chair of ILSG, says the merger will strengthen the position of Ireland as a major ELT destination for international students:

“The benefits for our members are numerous, and agents who promote Ireland will also see the benefits from this merger as we strengthen our position in the global market as a quality destination for their students.”

Pandemic challenges inspire more collaboration

David O’Grady, CEO of MEI, says that MEI’s and ILSG’s decision to combine resources and mission is well suited for these trying times due to COVID, where collaboration and cooperation has never been more important:

“Working together towards a common goal is always the best way to advance. Our mutual commitment to the welfare of students and staff in the sector and our dedication to promoting Ireland as a quality destination for English language learning led to the inevitability of our shared experiences, our skills and our expertise being forged to form a single partnership. In such terrible and testing times as these, we need each other to look after each other.”

MEI has also drafted a recovery plan for the pandemic-battered sector that includes a call for the government to provide emergency relief for language schools, including the continuation or introduction of new programmes of wage subsidies, commercial rent relief, and tax deferrals. The MEI brief also proposes the creation of a €50 million fund to provide grants and loans to Irish language schools.

In the summer of 2020, the government announced flexibility regarding study visas for language students and a continuation of these students’ ability to work as long as they are enrolled in online language courses.

More than 150,000 students attend ELT programmes in Ireland every year. The sector’s total value to the Irish economy is estimated at roughly €900 million, with a full-time employment base of 3,000+ and a further 7,000+ seasonal and part time staff engaged during peak periods.

For additional background, please see:

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