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Eden College: Why the 'visa mill' jibes belittle students as the real losers

category dublin | rights, freedoms and repression | opinion/analysis author Tuesday April 29, 2014 22:53author by Dave Moore - Irish Council for International Students (ICOS) Report this post to the editors


Eden College, one of Ireland's biggest private colleges and which until recently trumpeted former Minister for Education Batt O'Keefe as its President, abruptly shut up shop at the end of last week, laying off its staff. ICOS has been busy dealing with the fall-out.

Scenes of confusion at Eden College on Burgh Quay, Dublin
Scenes of confusion at Eden College on Burgh Quay, Dublin

The Sunday Times broke the news over the weekend but, as of yesterday morning, most of those enrolled at Eden College would have had no idea it had ceased operating. They arrived in a steady flow, growing to hundreds, with the situation becoming more confused and uncertain as the morning progressed. There was no-one there acting as the public face of the college to make an announcement, no posters to explain the situation. The seat behind reception remained empty – this despite the college website now saying that students should report there to learn of supposed new 'arrangements’.

On the ground at Eden College from early morning, ICOS was deluged by students’ concerns and questions. We spent the day doing our best to offer support and collecting contact details for follow-up. There were students with exams due the following week anxious to know what would become of them; students with place offers at universities depending on passing courses that had just disappeared; students fearful that two years of studies had just gone down the drain; students with receipts for thousands of euro paid over to the college that they had little hope of ever seeing again.

From the comments of many, their impression of Ireland was in tatters. They were amazed that the owners could just walk away from it all, with the Irish authorities apparently nowhere in sight.

Whilst this sentiment may get some echo in the blogosphere, the voices of the affected students are largely absent. Instead, the scandal surrounding those running Eden College (well exposed by The Sunday Times) has been extended by some commentators to the 1,200 who were on its books as learners. On their accounts, the college was nothing more than a ‘visa mill’, providing economic migrants with the cover of a student visa. This is to belittle and diminish the experience of hundreds of students who deserved far better than the shabby way the Eden College saga has played out.

Let’s rewind to December. Eden College had government ACELS accreditation and membership of the MEI agency of language schools. It ran from impressive, high-profile premises beside the Liffey and carried a former Education Minister’s stamp of approval. Few private colleges in Ireland could have looked more credible to a would-be student based thousands of miles away. The fact that it is now in disgrace poses many searching questions yet to be answered. Student-blaming provides nothing but distraction.

Right now, there is a vast amount of work to be done to address the individual situations of so many displaced learners. As news of Eden College filters back home to Brazil, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Korea and a host of other countries, there will undoubtedly be a great deal more work needed to repair Ireland’s battered international image.

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