Further Education and Training needs to be seen as a strong and valid alternative to Higher Education
The first ever strategy for the Further Education and Training (FET) sector is being launched by the Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn T.D., and Minister of State for Training and Skills Ciarán Cannon T.D.
The overall aim of the Strategy is to develop a world-class integrated system of further education and training in Ireland, which will promote economic development and meet the needs of all citizens.
The new strategy was developed by SOLAS with assistance from the ESRI which was commissioned to carry out evidence based research and assist in the development of the Strategy.
Five high level strategic goals have been identified:
- Skills for the Economy: to address the current and future needs of learners, jobseekers, employers and employees and to contribute to national economic development
- Active Inclusion: to support the active inclusion of people of all abilities in society with special reference to literacy and numeracy
- Quality Provision: to provide high quality education and training programmes and to meet the appropriate national and international quality standards
- Integrated Planning and Funding: FET provision will be planned and funded on the basis of objective analysis of needs and evidence of social and economic impact
- Standing of FET: to ensure a valued learning path leading to agreed employment, career, developmental, personal and social options.
The Strategy follows a radical overhaul of the structure of the sector by the Government which includes the streamlining of 33 existing VECs into 16 Education and Training Boards (ETBs), the abolition of FÁS and creation of SOLAS, the Further Education and Training Authority.
Speaking at the launch in the Chester Beatty library in Dublin Castle, Minister Quinn said, “This is an ambitious strategy that seeks to rebuild the entire Further Education and Training sector. This is a big challenge, but one that is timely and necessary. There is no single area as important, to the very texture and fabric of our society, as ensuring that our people are able to find work and get paid a living wage for it.
“Further Education and Training has a vital role to play in this – to provide people with the skills and education to allow them to compete for sustainable work in which they can take pride. As our economy recovers we need to ensure that people, particularly the unemployed, have the ‘job ready’ skills needed to compete for an increasing number of new jobs coming on stream.”
“The development of a learner database for the FET sector is a particularly welcome action in this Strategy. For the first time, this will allow us to track the progression of our citizens, from post-primary education, through further education and training and higher education. There is a lot we can learn from the progress our people make through education, and this will also help us to ensure that we direct funding towards the most successful courses.”
Minister Cannon said, “One of the main actions identified by the Strategy is the need to persuade school leavers, learners more generally, parents, employers and the wider public that the choice of a course in the Further Education and Training Strategy sector is a rational and valuable one – not one that is lesser to the higher education options which exist but one that is a valid alternative.”
“I want to bring about a revitalised Further Education and Training sector that is ‘fit-for-purpose’ for all learners who wish to avail of programmes – the unemployed and the employed, school leavers as well as early school leavers, those with disabilities and those who want to pursue particular interests through part-time learning.”
Research in the Strategy also shows that improvements in intermediate skills, those usually achieved through FET, are estimated to generate average annual net benefits up to 0.45% of GDP mainly due to enhanced levels of productivity.
Pat Delaney, Chairman of SOLAS said, “This is a clear strategy that provides a comprehensive roadmap for the development of the FET sector. It is inclusive, ambitious and challenging and will require the active support and participation of all relevant stakeholders, providers, employers and Government Departments.
The new strategy also proposes shifting the balance over time more towards the year round provision of FET programmes. Currently, training centres are open on a year round basis. However, PLC colleges operate on the academic calendar and are usually closed during the summer months.
There is also a proposal to move on a phased basis towards a new outcomes based funding model which is responsive to demand and also reflects the local, regional and socio-economic profiles of the ETBs.
In excess of 200,000 people will enrol in Department of Education and Skills funded FET this year. A total of €826 million will be spent by the Department to support Further Education and Training provision, of which €640 million will be funded through SOLAS. The balance relates to the teacher pay element of the Post Leaving Cert programme.
The Five Year Strategy for Further Education and Training (2014-2019) can be accessed at http://www.education.ie/en/Publications/Policy-Reports/Further-Education-and-Training-Strategy-2014-2019.pdf