Dáil Éireann - Volume 633 - 07 March, 2007
Written Answers. - Adult Education.
Mr. F. McGrath Mr. F. McGrath
Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will support Aontas in matters (details supplied). [8973/07]
Mr. O’Shea Mr. O’Shea
Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science her proposals in regard to the  demands of the Aontas pre-election campaign (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9179/07]
Mr. Haughey Mr. Haughey
Mr. Haughey: I propose to take Questions Nos. 268 and 289 together.
The reply references the document entitled “AONTAS’ 10 Demands”, which was recently issued by AONTAS, the National Association for Adult Education, and which can be accessed on the Association’s website. I am in regular contact with AONTAS and have had several meetings with them. One of these meetings was to discuss the document. I will respond to the 10 demands below.
D.1 I am satisfied that the absence of a structural relationship, or a defined cross-departmental responsibility or budget, does not impede inter-Departmental cooperation. There is regular contact and co-ordination between my Department and the others referred to, particularly the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
D.2 Following the formation of the ad hoc National Adult Learning Council in 2002, concerns emerged that the functions envisaged for it were too wide-ranging and were not sufficiently focused. Additionally, a number of developments had occurred which would impact on the work of the Council, including the establishment of the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland and the Further and Higher Education and Training Awards Councils. In that context, my Department undertook a strategic review of the role and functions of the Council to address these concerns. The results of this review are being considered.
D.3 Direct investment in adult education has increased by €56m, or 50% over the last five years. The increases announced in the 2007 Estimates for adult education represents an increase of nearly €19m., or 12%, as compared with the position in 2006. This compares with the increase in the overall Departmental provision of 8%.
The question of a capital provision for Adult and Further Education is under consideration. My Department has provided an increase of €7.4 million, or 21%, in the budget for Adult Literacy and Community Education in 2007. This will allow for 3,000 additional literacy places in 2007 as promised in Towards 2016 (Ten Year Framework Social Partnership Agreement 2006-2016). An additional €1 million has been allocated in 2007 to further expand the Adult Education Guidance Initiative.
D.4 Abolishing fees for part-time students undertaking undergraduate courses at higher education institutions would involve considerable extra Government expenditure and needs to be considered in the context of competing demands in the education sector. However in the “Towards  2016” Social Partnership Agreement 2006-2015, it has been agreed that a targeted fund of €10 million will be put in place to alleviate the fees in public institutions for part-time courses at third level by those at work who have not previously pursued a third level qualification. Tax relief is allowed on fees, at the standard rate of tax, for tuition fees paid in respect of approved courses at approved colleges of higher education.
D.5 Paid educational leave for workers with Junior Certificate qualifications or less would involve either employers or the Exchequer assuming the cost of the educational leave. Employers are likely to resist on the basis of cost and the threat to their viability and ability to compete. The number of adults with less than upper secondary education (one million) would represent a substantial cost for the Exchequer to take on. One of the two top priorities in the Education Programme of the National Development Plan 2007-2013 is “the large numbers of Irish adults who have not completed upper second-level education” and their educational needs will be fully considered over the next number of years.
D.6 Grants towards the cost of childcare are given to VECs, to be used to assist with the payment of the childcare expenses of people in some Further Education programmes. The aim is to attract people whose attendance is currently prevented by childcare responsibilities to enrol on these programmes. The programmes in question are VTOS, Youthreach and Senior Traveller Centres. This year, the BTEI will be included for the first time.
D.7 The recommendation that people earning less than €35,000 should not have to pay any course fees to participate in the Back to Education Initiative (BTEI) will be considered as part of a review of the eligibility criteria for the part-time BTEI programme.
D.8 The Back to Education Allowance is within the remit of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs. The summer payment to BTEA participants has been discontinued. The non-payment affects only persons who were in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance (UA) or Jobseekers Benefit (UB) prior to their participation in the scheme. These persons can join the live register in the summer. BTEA participants who are in receipt of One Parent Family payments, Disability Allowance etc. are not affected by the discontinuation.
D.9 The White Paper on Adult Education “Learning for Life” published in 2000, proposed the establishment of an Inter-Agency Working Group to begin to address the issue of professional development and the future recognition of staff qualifications in the adult education and training sector. The recommendations of the  White Paper are being implemented as resources permit, that is financial and staffing resources. The Department is currently in the process of introducing an integrated training budget and integrated training supports for adult education workers in VECs.
D.10 My policy is to seek to encourage and facilitate the participation of people with disabilities on programmes offered in the Further Education Sector by making available the supports required to enable them to access Further Education. While a forum has not been established, my Department hosted a conference on “Developing an Overall Strategic Approach to Disability in Further Education” in November 2006. The conference provided insight as to possible ways forward and will help inform the Department regarding future policy for persons with disabilities in Adult and Further Education. The Department is currently working with the National Office for Equity of Access to Higher Education and AHEAD to address special education needs of adults in further education. The Department has just launched an initiative in Youthreach to determine the most appropriate way to deal with the particular needs of this cohort.
Dáil Éireann 633 Written Answers. Adult Education.