Thursday, 11 March 2021
Young People and Access to Further and Higher Education: Motion [Private Members]
I wish to raise a couple of points. I thank People Before Profit for the motion and facilitating this timely debate.
With regard to universal access to third level education, I do not have a problem with thatper sebut we need to be cognisant of what is possible. I studied briefly in Belgium - most of my studies were brief – where everybody could go on to third level education. There, they had started to transfer the pressure that we want to avoid in leaving certificate year to the first year of third level. Everybody gets into first year in third level and there is then massive attrition. The hardest and most stressful exams students in Belgium will probably do in their lives are at the end of first year. There was a huge dropout rate. Allowing people to go to university is not necessarily the solution.
I accept that we need greater access and equality of access, but merely allowing people in does not necessarily negate all of the other inequalities. The same cohort who got through the leaving certificate will probably get through the first year of college with exactly the same unequal assistance that their socioeconomic background can provide. We need to be cognisant that the idea that merely abolishing the leaving certificate as it is and allowing people into first year would be a panacea is not necessarily the case. In certain professions, people are expected to work for nothing or next to nothing for a very long time, and are supported by their parents. That is open to some people in society but not to the vast majority. It is a difficult thing to address but one we necessarily have to address.
The next issue I want to raise is apprenticeships. I appreciate what the Government is trying to do by including apprenticeships into the CAO system. They will not be based on points, but we need to give greater weighting to apprenticeships and not just in the construction sector which is what we typically think of when we talk about apprentices.
I cannot think of the name of the particular series, but RTÉ used to make nuanced, slow and good documentaries about crafts in Ireland, from weaving to saddlery, that we do not find any more. We want to move increasingly to a circular economy and have fewer disposable products. What proportion of shoes are now repaired? Are they are worn until there is a blemish in them and then thrown out?
I do not suggest that people should work for nothing or cheaply, that the type of labour people traditionally carried out should be cheaper or that people should not be paid as much as any other professionals in our economy. They should be. Rather, I am pointing out that there are dwindling skills that need to be protected. Saddlery, wood turning, weaving and other highly intricate skills, which existed throughout our State until about 20 years ago are now dwindling and need to be protected.
I am not entirely convinced that the way to do that is just through putting access to these trades or skills on a CAO course. A much greater change in mindset is required from the Department. While I commend the intention behind putting apprenticeships in the CAO system, it may be counterproductive and even if it is not, it simply is not enough. We need to stress to people that third level and the academic third level system is not for everybody and should not be for everybody. That is not to say that it should be for people from a certain background and not for others. There are people from all sorts of backgrounds who are not particularly interested in studying algebra at third level and should not have to.