Thursday, 11 March 2021
Young People and Access to Further and Higher Education: Motion [Private Members]
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. I thank Solidarity-People before Profit for tabling the motion. I think it is a fair ask. I agree with it in the sense that there needs to be a greater level of imagination and that we have to look on this as an opportunity to deliver for third level on the same basis that Donogh O'Malley delivered for second level education. It is fair to say that there is an obvious need to deal with the issues of fees, SUSI and, in particular, the income thresholds. I welcome the fact that the Minister stated some of those issues will be addressed. However, we also need to accept the importance of access to third level in other respects. The sad news coming from Drogheda is a reminder of what can happen when kids from disadvantaged areas become involved in a pretty seedy part of this world that impacts on many working-class communities and impedes them greatly. Kids become enveloped and the victims of utterly scurrilous criminals. It is a blight on society that needs to be dealt with. We need to put all those factors into play in the context of what we can deliver for people and the opportunities they can be offered.
As I have stated previously in the House, my father was the principal of a school in Muirhevnamor, Dundalk. He often remarked on the utter ridiculousness of a teacher getting worked up about a kid not having a pencil, pencil case or copybook when that kid might not have had breakfast. We need to look at all the multi-agency interventions that are necessary to ensure that everybody is given a fair start. That begins long before children even get to secondary school. We need this to work from primary school, through secondary school and then into tertiary education.
I refer to apprenticeships. I welcome some of the narrative from the Government in terms of multiple access points to career paths. I welcome the fact that in Dundalk there is access through the Ó Fiaich Institute of Further Education and Drogheda Institute of Further Education, as well as access to post-leaving certificate courses that provide a springboard for many people to get into third level institutions such as Dundalk Institute of Technology, DKIT, as is the case for many in my constituency. We have to consider all these pathways. It is obvious that funding has to be increased, as do supports for access programmes. We also need to look at the College Connect initiative, through which proper connections are made with communities, particularly those that surround these third level institutes and the residents of which do not necessarily have a great tradition of attending third level.
I welcome some of the innovative moves that have been made by Louth and Meath ETB and other bodies. It established the advanced manufacturing and technology training centre of excellence in Dundalk, which provides lifelong training in high-tech and high-spec industries. We need more such initiatives. There is also a need for an audit in respect of employers' needs in terms of the skill sets that are required and should be built into apprenticeships. I know that some experts in the field believe that certain soft skills relating to communication or almost emotional intelligence, as well as certain other skill sets, are sometimes lacking. If that is the case, it would be very easy to incorporate that into apprenticeships and lifelong learning to ensure that we can produce students who have all the skill sets required.
I welcome the fact that the Minister referred to the issue of DKIT and technical university status. I would welcome further communication from him in that regard. I know that a meeting will be held next month with Oireachtas Members representing County Louth. We need to ensure that DKIT does not miss out and that we deliver on technical university status. I welcome the Minster's interaction on other issues that have occurred in DKIT. I would welcome a response from him on those issues. It may not suit him to discuss them in the Chamber.