A new Further Education and training strategy titled ‘Further FET: Transforming Learning’ was launched this morning in Richmond Barracks.
Minister for Higher and Further Education Simon Harris called further education the “Cinderella” of the Irish education system, as he feels it is “sometimes overlooked, often undervalued.” Harris told Newstalk this morning about how he no longer wants students to feel pressured to go the university route if further education or an apprenticeship would actually suit them better. Harris made clear during the conference that he wants the wider population of Ireland, not just secondary school graduates, to view further education as an option for them, including adults who want to reskill or up-skill.
Harris outlined six key targets overall that his department aspires to reach in the next five years. The first goal of the department is to have a greater penetration of FET across Ireland. They aim to see a greater share of school leavers choosing further education or apprenticeships as their first destination and they want a more seamless transition between further and higher education to be made possible.
These targets are in response to recent research that indicates that students who complete Post Leaving Cert Courses (PLCs) and then move on to higher education are more likely to graduate than students who enter higher education immediately. According to The Irish Times up to 75% of students who had done a PLC before progressing to higher education graduated whereas 50% of students who earned 300 CAO points and entered higher education directly completed their degree.
In 2016 it was reported that 62.2% of 2016 graduates of further education were in substantial employment in the first year after their graduation. The Department of Higher and Further Education wants to further increase upon this statistic. They aim to increase the progression levels of students to FET from pathways like community education. This further demonstrates the department’s intention to have more mature students in further education. Lastly, they intend to create a digitally transformed FET system. This need for more online education opportunities is a clear response to the restrictions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic
The topic of inequality within the education system was also addressed. Harris noted that during the week he had been told that there are currently more travellers in prisons than in higher education. The department’s strategy aims to resolve stark inequalities such as these and it was acknowledged that post-secondary education is currently not inclusive for all. Harris also mentioned that female participation in apprenticeships is still not where it needs to be. The importance of addressing the digital divide was also addressed. While digital literacy is recognised as a survival skill by the European Commission, 48% of Irish people only have basic digital literacy skills. This new FET strategy aspires to help resolve this glaring issue.
Close to the end of the conference, Stephanie Thompson, a research assistant in the department of law at Maynooth University, spoke about her own experience with further education. She felt that because she left school with no qualifications at the age of fourteen that her options were very limited. Programmes such as Youthreach and Move On renewed her interest in learning and prompted her to complete a PLC. Thompson did an undergraduate degree and a masters degree after that and will soon begin a PhD at Maynooth. Her educational journey served as an example for the importance of further education.
The conference introducing the new five-year plan was broadcast over the This is FET (Further Education and Training) Facebook page. The attendees at Richmond Barracks sat two metres apart and were instructed to wear masks. There were a number of speakers at the conference including the new Minister for Higher and Further Education, Simon Harris and the new Minister of State for Skills and Further Education, Niall Collins.
Brigid Molloy – Reporter