To give a little bit of background, I represent Education and Training Boards Ireland, ETBI. All our education and training boards, ETBs, are responsible for second level schools, a number of primary schools and further education and training, FET. We do some other things as well - music education, outdoor education and other programmes. That is our remit. In terms of Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, levels, we are responsible for level 1 to level 6. The institutes of technology and institutes of higher education go from level 6 to level 10. That is the space we are in. A lot of my remarks today will be about further rather than higher education.
Since Brexit was announced, we have been involved in a lot of work with the county councils and other groups, particularly in Donegal and the Border areas. Last month the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, hosted a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Brexit event. We also had a function in December which was co-hosted by the two councils, Derry City and Strabane District Council and Donegal County Council. A document was produced as a result of that. I have one copy of the map, which I believe I included in the presentation, which shows very interesting patterns of cross-Border commuting. It highlights some of the issues I will talk about as I go through my presentation. I have about nine items. I will not go into detail on all of them. I know that Mr. Garrahy has also touched on a few of them.
Our biggest concern or issue is the student, learner and trainee flows across the Border. The big issue is that Irish students who study in the UK and Northern Ireland may now possibly face non-EU fees. That is an issue. The other big issue is that there are approximately 2,000 students doing their leaving certificate examinations now, which the committee will know are ongoing. In the past, and I have some facts and figures to back this up, a lot of those students would have gone to the North and UK to continue their studies. Those students will possibly now opt to remain in the South for their further and higher education. I will come onto that shortly. One of the results of that is that it will possibly put additional pressures on the CAO system. It will certainly put additional pressures on the FET system. For example, quite a number of our Border students would transfer to colleges in Northern Ireland for further education.
The best example is the North West Regional College. It was formerly known as the Derry Tech but they now have a number of campuses in Strabane and Limavady and there is also a connection to Enniskillen. In terms of higher and further education coming from the South, we tend to get more of our students going for further education in the North. According to my figures, more will remain in the South for higher education, but for further education they cross over. That will have an immediate effect on us as the statutory body providing further education in the South through our Border ETBs. There are four ETBs affected. We anticipate that we will experience increased numbers of students wishing to study in the South. I might come back to that later as well.
As the committee will know, we took on the former FÁS training centres in 2013. All ETBs accept learners from Northern Ireland onto our training courses. They undertake work experience, and job placement following a training course, in the North. We are concerned about the implications for that. Will our students who are resident in Northern Ireland be able to continue with their work experience in the North if they are doing courses with us in the South? How would apprenticeships and traineeships be affected?
The obvious solution is free movement. It is very important that some arrangement is made. The idea of an education permit has been suggested. Educators and learners would have a permit which would allow them to move quickly and easily across either a hard or a soft border.
Data collection has traditionally been a problem for us in the South. Our management information systems were not always what they should have been. I am happy to report that things are improving in that regard. Although it is not fully up and running yet, we have the beginnings of a robust FET data collection system called the programme learner support system, PLSS. It is a joint initiative between SOLAS and ETBI. It is a suite of software applications which will allow ETBs and others to closely monitor programme outputs, outcomes and performance over all ETBs and for all FET learners. There is a mechanism for secure sharing, collecting and utilisation of FET data. We are pleased about that and it is going to help us greatly as we negotiate the fallout from Brexit.
A solution to the problem of more of our FET students, who would have gone to the North, now remaining in the South is to provide extra places. That would obviously mean more resources, both human and financial. Border ETBs in particular will have to increase their bid to SOLAS through the funding allocations requests and reporting, FARR, system. This system allows us to indicate our plans for our ETB for the year and then we normally get the funding. There will be changes in that regard if things continue. There is probably more of a flow of students from the South to the North, but there is the possibility that the Republic will become more financially attractive for Northern Ireland students. It is a possibility.
The next main issue is course provision. ETBs may have to develop new courses. While we have a good range of courses in ETBs in the South, a cursory look at the websites of the Northern further education colleges shows a much wider choice.
There is that possibility that we will have to start to develop new courses.
The next issue is student access to UK colleges and training facilities. The question was asked whether the arrangement should continue as it is as a consequence of visa issues and administration. It will possibly put future pressure on Irish third level colleges and further education and training as the only English-speaking country within the EU. It is something we are conscious of. While one can look at it as an opportunity or a threat, it is something of which we should be mindful. There is a possibility that a lot of people will relocate. Financial services will relocate from the UK to Ireland which could bring with it an increased need for education and training provision which we may need to provide to the sector. I have suggested that the Dublin infrastructure might be a limiting factor with opportunity for other areas to see an improvement in their infrastructure so that they can provide the training if there is a great deal of relocation.
We use City and Guilds and a lot of non-Irish, UK-based certification. There is a concern about getting UK assessors over to our education and training boards and whether there will be a problem with work permits and visas for them. It may impose an extra cost on us. There is also the issue of dual certification. If dual certification is used at certain institutes in conjunction with UK partners, there may be a problem. Tendering was mentioned but I will discuss it under procurement. The solution here is largely resource-based. We are in the process of re-engaging with QQI in terms of our QA systems. That is ongoing and timely. It is a good time for us to upgrade our QA systems. Following the 2013 amalgamations, each education and training board has a number of different QA systems and we are working towards creating a single one per ETB. That has not finally happened but it is timely for us to do it. Mr. Garrahy referred to young people and it is important that we consult with them through town hall meetings and focus groups. I have been doing a lot of talking at meetings on Brexit, but I am not sure that students and learners themselves have been consulted. I am interested in that, certainly.
The next point is about academic qualifications and teacher mobility which Mr. Garrahy also addressed. Quite a number of our teachers and tutors work in the South but live in the North and we are wondering about that. A good number of our teachers have qualifications from UU and QUB and we are a little concerned in that regard. Education has been one of the areas of major co-operation with the North-South Ministerial Council, which has been in place for 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement. A great deal of good work has been done in the area of special needs, educational underachievement, teacher qualifications and exchanges and we are anxious to see it continue. Members may be aware of the excellent facility at the Middletown Centre in County Armagh which does a great deal of good work on autism. It would be a shame if those links were suddenly cut off. The solution is the mutual recognition of qualifications. I alluded briefly to employees. A significant minority of ETB employees reside in the North and we are concerned about their financial situation and travel arrangements.
On language, we may become the only majority English-speaking country in the EU and that may become much more significant for us. We encourage schools to consider offering more European languages as a result of that. That is about resources also. Could we become a hub for attracting English language students and learners? On goods and services, we purchase a lot of those from the North. We have recently started a building programme at Moville in Inishowen the architect for which is based in Northern Ireland as are a number of other members on the team. There are concerns around that and future tenders and procurement. Revenue may make VAT changes. Sterling devaluation affects a lot of the business we do with our suppliers. I refer also to EU funding and the other partnerships. Mr. Garrahy mentioned ERASMUS+. In Donegal and all along the Border, we are very involved in PEACE funding. PEACE IV funding has not yet been released but we have been assured we are getting it. After that, there is nothing definite. Our ETB has not benefitted directly from INTERREG funding, but our local institute of technology has. Horizon 2020 funding is also the subject of concern. Education is very important for everyone's development and the improvement of community relations. We have come a very long way since the Good Friday Agreement, in particular in the Border counties. Any barrier to the provision of education will certainly be a problem.
I neglected to mention earlier SUSI, the grant awarding body, which will also run into problems. SUSI is based in the city of Dublin ETB. Issues will arise around the lack of eligibility on nationality grounds. SUSI can only provide maintenance grants to EU citizens. Post-Brexit, students from the North will not be eligible under nationality. Residency is another issue. One has to be resident for three out of five years in order to get a grant and that will cause a problem. It will also cause a problem for some courses. Any barrier will impose additional costs and obstacles on our learners and educators. We cannot allow that to happen. Things have moved on a great deal in 20 years, in particular in Border areas. It has been hugely positive and it would be a shame if things were to take a turn for the worse.
The document provided relates to our cross-Border higher and further education cluster. We have been meeting as a group which consists of Derry and Strabane District Council, Donegal County Council, North West Regional College, the University of Ulster, Letterkenny Institute of Technology and ourselves. We have been trying to do a little bit of work around the Derry-Strabane-Letterykenny city region which we have been promoting in the document. We are trying to do some work on mapping pathways and we have some memoranda of understanding in place. We are trying to stay ahead of things as best we can. There are many complex cross-Border links. Derry is seen in Inishowen as its natural city. Inishowen people tend to gravitate to Derry rather than even to Letterkenny. There is a lot of history and complexity involved there. We are doing our best and working together closely to see what we can do to make it easier for students and learners in our general communities. That is just an example. The same pertains all along the Border.