Thursday, 11 March 2021
Young People and Access to Further and Higher Education: Motion [Private Members]
Tá áthas orm an deis a fháil labhairt ar an rún seo. Tá mé ag tacú leis an rún. This is a very deep and systematic problem that we are dealing with today in terms of educational disadvantage. As always, it disproportionately affects those in what are termed the lower socioeconomic groups in society. I am aware that the Department is working with the European Commission on the independently appointed consortia of consultants on the Cassells report and that the key aim of the review includes an examination of the funding options for higher education. I hope the Minister's commitment that the review will be completed towards the latter part of quarter 2 of 2021 will materialise.
The Minister will be aware that the issues concerning access are deeply embedded in the education system. In 2019, I called on the then Minister of State with responsibility for higher education, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, to make immediate provision for the re-establishment of the educational disadvantage committee to advise on policies and strategies to be adopted in order to identify and correct educational disadvantage at all levels. I welcome the great work that is being done, but if we are to build on it, then the educational disadvantage committee must be reinstated.
The Higher Education Authority released a report entitled A Spatial & Socio-Economic Profile of Higher Education Institutions in Ireland. The report concluded that students from less well-off backgrounds and geographical areas continue to experience significant and systematic levels of social and class disadvantage in the education system. I know the Minister will accept that it is not a lack of ambition or an absence of dreams for a better future that is the problem for young people; more often than not it is the financial inability to give effect to that ambition. My hope is that the efforts we are making here today and going forward will recognise this and lead to a proper, affordable and fair system of access to third-level education or apprenticeships that young people so richly deserve.
We must broaden the range of apprenticeships available, but we must also ensure that they are promoted as much as possible and that they are seen as being as valuable as a third-level degree. It is very important that perceptions change and that the value of apprenticeships is realised and recognised.