Thursday, 19 May 2022
Department of Education and Skills
Further and Higher Education
142. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the way that he will ensure that any increase in funding to the higher education sector is translated into better employment conditions for the many workers in the sector in precarious employment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25394/22]
In relation to funding, on May 4th I launched Funding the Future – the Government's policy response to the Cassells and DG Reform Reviews on the future of higher education. Funding the Future settles the question on funding Higher Education.
The Government has decided that income contingent loans for fees will not form part of the future funding model. Instead, the Government is committing to a multi-funded model of additional Exchequer investment and employer contributions through the National Training Fund. The policy sets out the vision and direction of higher education funding, our commitment to addressing legacy issues in higher education and detailing our ambitious plans for investment and reform.
- Planned additional investment of €307 million to address core funding challenges for our institutions, that will be made over a number of years through annual budgetary processes. This does not account for future demographic needs or new policy proposals for higher education.
- Plans to consider options to address cost as a barrier to higher education, and how we will pursue funding measures on these issues through the Estimates process, including in respect of reductions to the student contribution and enhancements to the SUSI grant in line with the Student Grant Review. In prioritising core funding increases, the intention is that quality of outcomes will improve, the agility and responsiveness of higher education will be strengthened and the reputation of Ireland’s higher education system will be enhanced, including in international rankings.
As outlined in the framework, the Department considers the current student staff ratios challenge quality and have contributed to deterioration in the position of Irish institutions in international rankings. The adoption of a sustainable funding model will enable steps be taken to move back towards European and OECD norms in terms of staffing ratios. It will also support the sector in moving away from the scale of use of more precarious forms of employment arrangement, subject to DPER engagement and agreement.
Future Funding implementation will be based on partnership between Government, our agencies, the higher education sector and key stakeholders including staff representation. In addition I am establishing an Implementation Group - which I intend to chair - to provide guidance to my Department in the rollout of the Funding and Reform Framework and focus on creating a unified system and improving pathways between further and higher education. I am delighted to chair this group alongside my co-chairs Professor Tom Collins and Professor Anne Looney, both experts in the field. It is intended to invite staff representation to be part of the implementation group and the inaugural meeting of the group is being scheduled at present.
143. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he intends to automatically link increases in the rates of SUSI grants to increases in the cost of living; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25386/22]
I am very aware of the impact the cost of living has on students and the challenges students are facing.
As part of Budget 2022, I secured an additional €15m to enhance the existing financial supports under the Student Grant Scheme for implementation in 2022.
In this regard, I have already prioritised improvements to the income thresholds and student grant rates for the 2022/23 academic year, as follows:
- An increase to all student grant maintenance payments, including the special rate of grant, of €200 per year which will benefit all students entitled to receive a maintenance grant.
- The income thresholds to qualify for the standard rates of student grant have been increased by €1,000.
- The qualifying distance criterion for students to qualify for the non-adjacent rate of grant has been reduced from 45km to 30km, effective from the start of the 2022/23 academic year.
I officially launched the report of the review of the Student Grant Scheme on May 4th2022 and am committed to implementing the recommendations in a phased way. I intend to publish, during the Summer in advance of each year’s Estimates process, a paper outlining potential options and impacts, to be considered in the Budgetary process, related to the student grant scheme and other programmes related to student supports and costs of higher education, including with respect to those priorities identified in the Student Grant Scheme Review.
Apart from the Student Grant Scheme, students in third-level institutions experiencing exceptional financial need can apply for support under the Student Assistance Fund. This Fund assists students, in a sensitive and compassionate manner, who might otherwise be unable to continue their third level studies due to their financial circumstances. Details of this fund are available from the Access Office in the third level institution attended.
In addition, tax relief at the standard rate of tax may be claimed in respect of tuition fees paid for approved courses at approved colleges of higher education. Further information on this relief is available from a student’s local Tax Office or from the Revenue Commissioners website, www.revenue.ie.
144. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills his proposals to improve student maintenance and tuition grants in the coming years under the SUSI scheme; his proposals to reduce the student registration fees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25239/22]
A key priority outlined in the framework are plans to consider options to address cost as a barrier to higher education. The Deputy will be aware that the principal support for students is the Student Grant Scheme, which assists more than 70,000 students annually to access third level education. The budgetary provision for the Student Grant Scheme in 2021 is €364.5m.
The importance of this Review has been underlined by the rise in the costs of living across society which have adversely affected students more than others. To address this and further alleviate the pressures arising from the rise in costs for students and their families I initiated improvements for the academic year 2022/23 by increasing all student grant maintenance payments, including the special rate of grant, by €200 per year as well as increasing the qualifying income thresholds (except special rate) by €1,000. I have also introduced changes to the criteria for the higher non-adjacent rate of grant which means that from September 2022, the qualifying distance for the non-adjacent rate of grant has been reduced from 45km to 30km. In this way the scheme is responsive to eligible students who reside further away from college by providing an increased rate of student maintenance grant. These changes will benefit thousands of students and will build on the improvements that have already been made through this year’s student grant scheme.
Funding the Future sets out the vision and direction of higher education funding, our commitment to addressing legacy issues in higher education and detailing our ambitious plans for investment and reform. This includes:
- planned additional investment of €307 million to address core funding challenges for our institutions, that will be made over a number of years through annual budgetaryprocesses. This does not account for future demographic needs or new policy proposals for higher education.
- Plans to consider options to address cost as a barrier to higher education, and how we will pursue funding measures on these issues through the Estimates process, including inrespect of reductions to the student contributionand enhancements to the SUSI grant in line with the Student Grant Review.
As I look towards the next budgetary cycle, I will be examining all the levers I have to address the issue of education costs in a way that has impact for students and families and that applies broadly across society. This summer in advance of the Estimates process, I intend to publish a paper outlining potential options and impacts, to be considered in the Budgetary process, related to the Student Grant scheme and other programmes related to student supports and costs of higher education, including with respect to those priorities identified in the Student Grant Scheme Review.
145. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to cases in which students are being excluded from SUSI grants on the basis of income from the pandemic unemployment payment; if he can clarify the measures that are in place to prevent students who otherwise would qualify for a SUSI grant being excluded on the basis of pandemic unemployment payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25382/22]
The decision on eligibility for a student grant is a matter for the centralised student grant awarding authority SUSI to determine. As in any statutory scheme, a core principle of the student grant scheme is that there is consistency of approach and an equitable treatment for applicants as part of the means assessment process. All applications are assessed nationally with reference to the terms and conditions of the relevant student grant scheme and are applied impartially to all applicants.
The Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Act 2020 establishes the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment as a social insurance benefit scheme separate from other social protection statutory schemes including the Supplementary Welfare Allowance and Jobseeker Allowance and Jobseeker Benefit schemes. For student grant purposes the pandemic unemployment payment has been treated as reckonable income for the SUSI means assessment process since it was introduced in March 2020. This means that the Covid-19 payment is treated in a similar fashion to other Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection payments such as Jobseekers Benefit/Allowance, thus ensuring a consistency of approach and an equitable treatment of students and their families in the SUSI means assessment process.
However if a student or party to their application experiences a change in circumstances that is not a temporary change and is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, they can apply to SUSI to have their application assessed under the change in circumstances provision of the relevant Student Grant Scheme. This could include a student or a party to their application no longer being in receipt of a pandemic unemployment payment.
147. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the extent to which third and fourth level educational opportunities continue to be readily available in all areas throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25397/22]
163. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the extent to which third-level technical educational spaces continue to remain readily available throughout the country, with particular reference to areas and industries of greatest need; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25398/22]
324. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the extent to which students with a technical qualification at a higher-level are becoming available to meet the market requirements throughout the country in sufficient numbers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25628/22]
325. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the extent to which graduates with a higher-level technical qualification are available to meet the requirements of the workplace with particular reference to the need to meet competition requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25629/22]
326. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the degree to which sufficient interest is being shown throughout academia in the need to ensure the availability of higher-level graduates to meet the demands of the workplace and competition; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25630/22]
327. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the plans that are in place or anticipated, to increase the number of graduates at both technical and academic-levels to meet future demands and challenges; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25631/22]
328. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the extent to which sufficient places exist at academic and technical-levels to ensure the availability of sufficient graduates throughout County Kildare and the country at large to meet workplace requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25632/22]
329. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the current number of students likely to graduate at third and fourth-level over the next five years with a view to planning for the future and meeting requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25633/22]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 147, 163, 324, 325, 326, 327, 328 and 329 together.
One of my goals as Minister is to ensure that potential learners have access to the educational pathways that allow them reach their potential in a way that meets the very broad and rapidly changing needs of our labour force, the economy and society. It is therefore my objective to ensure that there is access into either further or higher education for each person who wishes to pursue educational options at third-level.
Our higher education system has expanded significantly over the past number of years, from 209,300 enrolments in 2014 to 245,700 enrolments in 2020. The most recent projections of full-time enrolment in higher education predict that enrolments will rise a further 13% over the next decade, and work is ongoing to build capacity within the system to accommodate this increase. Work is also ongoing on an updated set of enrolment projections for higher education, which will further assist in this capacity-building programme of work. My Department does not currently produce specific projections for the number of higher education graduates, as a number of variables can impact graduate output in any one year.
We are also working to strengthen the further education and training system under a new strategy for that sector. This will help ensure that our tertiary education system as a whole equips our students with the knowledge, skills and expertise required to secure good quality, well paid and sustainable employment.
The Action Plan for Apprenticeship sets out new ways of structuring, funding, and promoting apprenticeships with a target of 10,000 apprenticeship registrations per year by 2025. In 2021, a record 8,607 new apprentices were registered- an almost 40% increase on the figures from 2019, the last “normal” pre-pandemic year.
Development of new apprenticeship programmes has continued despite the pandemic challenges, There are currently 65 apprenticeship programmes on offer: 25 craft programmes and 40 programmes introduced since 2016. Eight new programmes were launched over 2020 and 2021, despite the pandemic; Arboriculture, Equipment Systems Engineer, Healthcare Assistant, Principal Engineer – Professional Doctorate, Recruitment Executive, Sales, Scaffolding and Supply Chain Associate. These new apprenticeships are developed in response to particular skills needs in the workforce.
There are a number of key strategies in place at all levels to ensure we meet existing and future skills demands. These include policies designed to ensure a pipeline of suitably qualified science and technical graduates, and initiatives to equip young people and the working population more generally with the skills and capacity to meet these demands. Central to shaping these strategies is the partnership approach between the Further and Higher Education system and Government, Industry, the National Skills Council, the National Training Fund Advisory Group, the Regional Skills Fora and the Apprenticeship Council.
The National Skills Council (NSC) within its remit advises on the prioritisation of identified skills needs and on how to secure delivery of these needs. Key high level trends identified at recent NSC meetings include automation and digitisation, digital literacy and transversal skills. Information on these trends is then use to formulate our skills strategies and initiatives such as the National Skills Strategy 2025; Technology Skills 2022; Springboard+ and the Human Capital Initiative.
My Department will continue to advance efforts to ensure that Ireland offers learning opportunities to all who wish to pursue then, and produces the graduates the workforce needs with the skills that our economy and society require.
A core objective for my Department is to ensure that individuals and businesses are offered supports and pathways to quality education, upskilling and reskilling opportunities.
The National Training Fund supports initiatives including: Skills to Advance- an employee development policy framework which enables targeted support for vulnerable groups in the Irish workforce; Skills to Compete – a range of programmes to respond to the need for activation, upskilling and reskilling; Springboard+ provides free and subsidised upskilling and reskilling higher education opportunities in areas of identified skills need; and the Human Capital Initiative(HCI) range of programmes which seek to ensure that the higher education system as a whole responds to the constantly evolving skills needs of the economy.
Skillnet Irelandprovides subsidised training to business through learning networks operating nationwide and across all sectors, and have been allocated an additional €11 million under the EU Brexit Adjustment Reserve to support the SME sector.
The pace of change in skills and the work of work is exponential, and only set to grow, as we tackle trends like digitalisation, automation, demographic change and seek to move to a low carbon future. Lifelong, and life-wide learning, is the essential mechanism to ensure Ireland remains a competitive, inclusive, sustainable economy and society.
Through 2022 Ireland, in partnership with the OECD, is reviewing Ireland’s skills strategies, policies and approaches. The primary focus of the work of NSC in 2022 is to feed into the ongoing OECD Skills Strategy Project.
One of the four set priority areas for the review is "Fostering Greater Participation in Lifelong Learning in and outside of the Workplace",examining how Ireland can continue to strengthen our performance in this critical area.
My Department continues to engage with other Departments and stakeholders to assess how best to address these challenges.
149. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills his Department’s strategy to ensure more women enter male dominated careers and apprenticeships; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25266/22]
One of the five overarching objectives of the ‘Action Plan for Apprenticeship 2021-2025’ is "Apprenticeship for All". In other words, ensuring that the profile of the apprenticeship population more closely reflects the profile of the general population. By December 2021, there were a total of 1,535 female apprentices, up from 60 in 2016 and only 665 at the end of 2019. This increase is mainly due to the expansion of apprenticeship into new areas.
Many of these new programmes are in occupations that have greater gender balance in the workplace such as financial services where 52% of participants are female across the four apprenticeships in the sector. Women also feature more strongly in the new apprenticeships in the hospitality, healthcare, property, sales, biopharma and ICT sectors. Whilst it is still too low, it is also important to note that female representation on craft apprenticeship has doubled in the last two and a half years.
On 14th April, I announced a new gender-based bursary for apprenticeship employers. The bursary, which is worth €2,666, is available to employers who employ apprentices on any national apprenticeship programme with greater than 80% representation of a single gender. It is being implemented with effect from 01 January 2022, and covers all new apprentice registrations from that date on eligible national apprenticeship programmes.
150. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the pathways that are being made available for people with disabilities to access further and higher education; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25079/22]
Inclusion is one of the core strategic goals for my Department, and my ambition is to ensure that we provide supports and opportunities for learning to all. This means recognising the needs of vulnerable learners, people who are most marginalised and people with special and additional needs. This means assisting people in accessing and progressing through higher and further education and training. The further education and training (FET) sector is committed to increasing levels of inclusion through the provision of high quality, more accessible and flexible education and training programmes and supports suited to the identified needs of individuals, including persons with a disability.
There is ongoing engagement and monitoring in relation to provision and support within FET, including for persons with a disability, through the Strategic Performance Agreement process between SOLAS and the 16 Education and Training Boards. SOLAS is also currently overseeing an independent evaluation of Specialist Training Provision programme, which provides training for persons with a disability with higher support needs, to examine the quality, effectiveness, on-going relevance and overall value of training that is currently delivered by specialist training providers, and to propose any recommendations for future practice. A number of websites have been developed to assist prospective students to choose the course that best suits their needs. “Fetchcourses”
(www.fetchcourses.ie/) was developed by SOLAS in partnership with Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) and other Further Education and Training providers as a Further Education and Training Course Hub. The Right Course
(www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/f205a-the-right-course/#) provides details on course and training opportunities available, including information on grants, other financial supports and career guidance.
The Action Plan for Apprenticeship 2021 – 2025 was launched in April 2021. The plan includes a target of 10,000 new apprentice registrations per annum across the further and higher education sectors by 2025. One of the five unambiguous objectives in this plan is ‘Apprenticeship for all’, meaning that the profile of the apprenticeship population will more closely reflect the profile of the general population. On March 24, I launched the National Apprenticeship Alliance. The Alliance will have an advisory role in relation to the development of the apprenticeship system and will oversee and sanction the development of new apprenticeships over the coming years. There are plans to establish an equity of access subgroup of the National Apprenticeship Alliance which will look at addressing underrepresentation on apprenticeships from groups such as: socio economically disadvantaged, Travellers and Roma, migrants, persons with disabilities and women.
In addition, shortly I will bring proposals to Government on how we increase the number of people with an intellectual disability engaging in higher education. I believe that my Department can and is playing a leading role in terms of improving opportunities for people with disabilities.
My Department will continue to play its part in improving opportunities for persons with disabilities to engage in education, undertake apprenticeships and gain meaningful employment.
151. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the steps his Department is taking to encourage individuals towards careers in construction sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24952/22]
A key government priority is to ensure that we have world-leading skills in the economy to ensure a sustainable and equitable economy in the future.
The construction sector is no exception. We recognise the changes in the sector and the response needed to support innovation in construction, and the need for targeted, collaborative and industry- focused opportunities available across all levels of the tertiary education and training system.
The Department is working with sectoral partners such as SOLAS, to increase skills supply through the current network of skills provisions available across the tertiary education system in order to tackle climate and housing issues.
We are expanding the number of apprentices we train. We are also changing the CAO to ensure school leavers are aware of all of their options after school.
Across government, several actions are being addressed to ensure that the sector can fully utilise expertise available to support the ongoing development of the sector.
Last week, myself and Minister Humphreys announced the FutureBuilding Initiative, which aims to spearhead activation and recruitment for the construction sector along with supporting the industry by significantly scaling-up in education and training opportunities. This includes commitments regarding long-standing programmes and apprenticeships and delivery of new courses. I strongly believe we need to change the narrative around careers in construction too.
There are still only 270 women craft apprentices, or 1% of the craft population. There are 5 craft apprenticeship programmes with not a single woman, and 11 craft programmes with less than 5 women. We need to move the dial.
152. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the steps that have been taken by his Department to support students who are heading one parent families to continue their educational journey in further and higher education. [25286/22]
The principal support provided by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science in financial terms is the Student Grant Scheme, which provides means-tested financial assistance to eligible students in further and higher education.
The scheme is administered by Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI), a business unit of CDETB (City of Dublin Education and Training Board). Under the terms of the Student Grant Scheme, grant assistance is awarded to students attending an approved course in an approved institution who meet the prescribed conditions of funding, including those relating to nationality, residency, previous academic attainment and means.
The maintenance grant is a contribution made towards a student’s day-to-day living expenses and is paid in nine monthly instalments. The purpose of the Scheme is to provide additional assistance where parental income is below a certain threshold or in the case of independent mature students, where the level of income of the student and his or her spouse warrants additional assistance by way of a grant. The aim of the student grant scheme is to make a contribution to the cost of going to college; covering the full cost has never been a feasible option.
In the 2019/2020 academic year SUSI paid 854 maintenance grants to grant recipients on full time courses whereby a One Parent Family Payment was declared by the applicant (not the child of a one parent family). Of the 854 lone parent students in receipt of the grant, 94 were PLC students, 692 were undergraduate students and 68 were postgraduate students.
In the 2020/2021 academic year SUSI paid 904 maintenance grants whereby a One Parent Family Payment was declared by the applicant. Of the 904 lone parent students in receipt of the grant, 88 were PLC students, 748 were undergraduate students and 68 were postgraduate students.
In the 2021/2022* academic year SUSI paid 673 maintenance grants whereby One Parent Family Payment was declared by the applicant lone parent students. Of the 673 lone parent students in receipt of the grant to date, 78 are PLC students, 541 are undergraduate students and 54 are postgraduate students. Please note that the figures for 2021/22 will rise as not all applications in this cohort are processed yet. SUSI anticipate the final figures for 2021/22 will be in line with previous years.
The third National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education (2015 – 2021) was launched in December 2015. The vision of the National Access Plan is to ensure that the student body entering into, participating in and completing higher education at all levels reflects the diversity and social mix of Ireland's population. The Plan identifies the target groups that are currently under-represented in higher education including lone parents.
The Programme for Access to Higher Education (PATH)is the main funding stream that supports the implementation of the National Access Plan (NAP) with an overall funding envelope of €42m between the periods 2017 to 2022.
- Strand 1 supports access to initial teacher education from the target groups identified in the National Access Plan. €900,000 per annum allocated and over the 6 year period totalling €5.4m.
- Strand 2 provides bursaries to students who have been identified by their higher education institution as being the most socio-economically disadvantaged students in the target groups under the National Access Plan. With effect from the 2021/22 academic year, a three-tier system of bursary provision has been introduced. This consists of the existing 203 bursaries arising from the original call worth €5,000 per annum (Tier 1), 120 bursaries worth €2,000 per annum (Tier 2) and a number of once-off bursaries worth €1,500 payable for the 2021/22 academic year only (Tier 3).
- Strand 3 Higher Education Access Fund supports regional clusters of higher education institutions with the aim of attracting additional students from groups currently under-represented in higher education. €2.5m per annum allocated to clusters of higher education, totalling €15m over the 6 year period.
In academic year 2019/2020, a total of 56 lone parents were in receipt of a PATH bursary (28% of all bursary recipients) and in 2020/2021, 50 lone parents received a PATH bursary (25 % of all bursary recipients).
The Student Assistance Fund (SAF) provides financial support to full- and part-time students who are experiencing financial difficulties while attending higher education. The SAF can be claimed for expenses such as books, rent, food, medical costs, class materials, light and heat bills, essential travel and childcare. In the academic year 2020/2021 there were 829 part time students including lone parents who were recipients of the Student Assistance Fund.
Since 2017, following an independent review of the barriers facing lone parents in accessing higher education and other reviews of the SAF and FSD, the Government has invested additional funds to allow the extension of the SAF to part-time students who are lone parents or other members of National Access Plan target groups. The current core SAF provision for 2022 is €9.1m with no final decision made as to the 22/23 allocation. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the SAF allocation for the 2020/21 academic year was doubled from €8.1 million to €16.2 million. The SAF will be doubled again for the 2021/22 academic year.
Fostering Inclusion is one of the three core pillars around which the Further Education and Training (FET) Strategy 2020-2024 is built. The FET sector is committed to increasing levels of inclusion through the provision of high quality, more accessible and flexible education and training programmes and supports suited to the identified needs of individuals, including for those heading one-parent families. FET provision is largely free or heavily subsidised, and a number of financial supports may be available to learners to facilitate the participation of individuals who would not otherwise be in a position to take up training. I would encourage people to make an appointment with their local Adult Education Guidance Service (AEGS), available in each Education and Training Boards (ETB) across the country free of charge, to discuss what supports may be available to them.