Thursday, 11 March 2021
Young People and Access to Further and Higher Education: Motion [Private Members]
The Minister recently stated he wants to see access to third level education for all. That is very admirable, but is it achievable? Covid has shone a light on many areas over the past 15 months. In particular, it has shone a light on a leaving certificate that is outdated and antiquated. The intense competition for third level places shows up the leaving certificate for what it is. It defeats the purpose of education. Education is supposed to be enjoyed. It is about educating ourselves. The leaving certificate has become something very different. It is a points race for those who want to access third level education.
Education should be open to all regardless of income. Education inequality goes to the heart of income inequality in this country. Deputy Murphy spoke about postcodes in Dublin. The following is a great example in that regard. A student living in Dublin 6 has a 99% chance of going on to third level education, whereas for a student living in Dublin 10, the chances of going on to third level education are 16%. Even in terms of postcodes, particularly in Dublin, there is educational apartheid. This is applicable across the prison system as well in that the vast majority of people who are in prison are from certain areas of Dublin. This goes to the heart of the class system.
I want to speak about my own experience. I sat my leaving certificate examination in 1990, which is 31 years ago. Less than 3% of my class went on to third level education. In 2020-2021 more than 30% will go on to third level education. That is very positive. There are a number of factors at play. The culture has changed in working-class areas, access to education has changed, especially around institutes of technology, ITs, and the culture of the school has changed, with teachers now telling students they can be good and that they can go beyond what they are. There are still many barriers to access to education in terms of income and fees. Even when in that education sphere, there are still barriers for working-class students.
On the CAO points and places for nursing and midwifery, the Minister should take on this issue during his time as Minister with responsibility for education. Incredibly, there are 1,800 places available on the nursing and midwifery course, yet 6,000 students chose it as their first preference, which means that course is oversubscribed. Students want to engage in that vocation. They have seen in the past year in particular how that vocation has stepped up to the plate and served us all. If the 1,800 places were doubled to 3,600 places, we would gain 1,800 additional nurses, who on qualification could be offered a €10,000 per annum incentive to remain in the Irish public health system. This is done in Scotland. These are good things we can do rather than continue to recruit nurses from different parts of the world, although those who have come here have done amazing work. Let us look to what can be done to keep our nurses here rather than emigrating.