Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science: Statements


4:30 pm

Verona Murphy (Wexford, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I bring to the Minister's attention an issue that was raised by a constituent regarding delays in completing apprenticeships. The correspondence states that the constituent's electrician apprenticeship is supposed to be a four year programme, but there is such a waiting list to move on to the next phase that apprentices such as this person will spend more than five years doing the apprenticeship. My constituent and I want to know if the Minister will look into this and solve the problem so that the apprentice can qualify within the four years and start to earn his much-needed living. All his exams have been completed in phase 6 and he has six months left in phase 7. I hope the Minister will look into that and come up with a solution.

On higher education in general, this is a sector which has grown rapidly in the past 20 years. I am sure we can all remember the days when the junior certificate, or the intermediate certificate, as it was known, was as far as many students went in school, then doing the leaving certificate became the norm. Nearly 60 years ago, the Government placed secondary education at the heart of Irish life. This helped to improve people's life chances and helped many people out of poverty. The fact that we now have a Minister with responsibility for higher education, with a dedicated Department, is evidence of the increased importance placed on higher education.

If we want to ensure continued growth in this sector, all areas of Ireland must be catered for. With that in mind, I draw attention to the university for the south east and the proposal to merge IT Carlow and Waterford IT under the technological university for the south east. That has been talked about for years but, while I know there is progress, it is slow. As the largest county in the south east in both population and area, a substantial university campus must be put in County Wexford as part of the university for the south east.

Cost has been highlighted several times as one of the main difficulties apparent in third level education. For example, the cost of accommodation in Dublin is astronomical and a grave difficulty for many families. Second, there is a benefit to having a university in the area, which is the ability to attract foreign direct investment. Unfortunately, County Wexford has been neglected by IDA Ireland for many years. The most recent announcement is the first in years. The number of IDA visits that happen in Wexford is constantly near the bottom of the list compared with the rest of the country. It is unacceptable for such a big county with obvious location benefits. The IDA visits are vital because they advertise the advantages of the location to companies considering investing and expanding in Ireland. One of the main reasons Wexford is neglected is the absence of a university campus.

In County Wexford, before Covid, we had makeshift car parks dotted along the roadsides where people met to carpool to head to Dublin to work. More than 10,000 people leave Wexford daily to work outside the county. I want highly skilled people in Wexford to have the option to go to college and work in Wexford, rather than leaving them stuck in traffic, spending the whole day in Dublin, and arriving home to their families later when their children have gone to bed.

When Donogh O'Malley announced free secondary education for all he did not exclude any county. Imagine if he decided to have free secondary education in only a few counties. How much worse off would we be as a society today? I ask the Minister to ensure that when it comes to a campus in Wexford as part of the university, we do not need to focus on the funds for it.


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