What's in a name? A lot when it comes to qualifications

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The Independent Online
One company offering distance learning TEFL courses has attracted persistent criticism from other EFL professionals - ILC (International Learning Centres) of Edinburgh. But ILC's director, Ian Dick, while acknowledging that mistakes have been made, maintains his standards are high. "We have a history of providing excellent courses for teachers of EFL," he says.

Some of his professional rivals beg to differ. In 1993 ILC, which has been in existence for 16 years, stated in publicity material that it was a member of the Eurolink group. It was not, and the real Eurolink in Sheffield - another distance learner provider - took legal action and forced the reference to be removed.

International Learning Centres also incurred the wrath of the International Language Centres (ILC) group, in Hastings, which runs a number of schools in the highly regarded International House stable, for using the same name. To get round the confusion, ILC Edinburgh said its full title was International Learning Centres - and so it still is today.

ILC has made various extravagant claims of academic respectability. In 1993 ILC - its address is in Edinburgh, its telephone number has an Alloa exchange - said all its courses and awards were "fully validated for worldwide recognition by the British Association of TESP Qualifying Institutions". No leading TEFL expert I spoke to had heard of such a body.

The same prospectus said: "Our accreditation qualifications have become the standard passport to TEFL teaching worldwide and are recognised by more than 10,000 members of educational institutions ... ILC are authorised to offer the courses to train by distance learning." Mr Dick now admits that validation for ILC courses comes only from ILC itself. The Trading Standards Service in Alloa, after investigating ILC, said: "Mr Dick was extremely vague about the previous accreditation procedure."

The 1993 prospectus goes on: "All ILC qualifications are accredited by the International Licentiate Board, which is composed of senior staff on a rotational basis of 42 international schools situated throughout Europe. (The Mantle covers over 800 schools worldwide)." Again, no-one I spoke to in the industry had heard of this board or could make head or tail of what was being claimed.

A later prospectus (with much of the above removed) states: "ILC provide accredited licentiate qualifications to a multitude of institutions and individuals such as the British Council." There is no process even in the over-complex world of EFL whereby an institution can provide a qualification to the British Council.

By any standards, this is obscure to the point of meaninglessness. However, the Scottish trainer continues undeterred, even suggesting that one of its qualifications is the best available, while at the same time committing a hilarious error. "The course is rated 100 per cent," says the prospectus, "accredited for worldwide acceptance. There is no RSA or Trinity House [Trinity House is the lighthouse and pilot authority for England] equivalent qualification."

The range of courses and detailed regulations about qualifications are so confusing it is a wonder that anyone signs up. Yet ILC claims that more than 300 students - most of them working and living abroad - enrol each year. Mr Dick says: "We are happy with our product and our new brochure now gives an accurate idea of what we offer. I am not prepared to comment on complaints from other bodies."

ILC is being monitored by the Trading Standards Service, which says: "Should the trader fail to respond in an appropriate manner [to complaints], we will consider our options with regard to further action."

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