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Third Level Education

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 30 November 2021

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Questions (72)

Bernard Durkan


72. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the extent to which he continues to make provision for an increased supply of higher level graduates throughout the country, with particular reference to the need to meet the requirements of industry and academia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [58607/21]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I ask the Minister for an increased supply of higher level graduates throughout the country, with particular reference to the need to meet the requirements of industry and academia. It is a very similar question to my last one but is focused slightly differently.

I will give somewhat of a similar answer but I will try to add a few bits of new information.

We have an advanced system of skills provision in our country, whether you look at the success of our secondary school system and the Department of Education, our further education and training facilities or our higher education. We also know, however, that we cannot be complacent. No one owes this country a living. No one owes any of us a living. We can never stand still. A phrase we like to use when talking about skills is that we can be confident but not complacent.

Last week I travelled to the OECD headquarters and met the head of the OECD to commission a body of work to be done by the OECD on our skills infrastructure. I want the OECD to look at what we are doing in this country, what we are doing well and what we need to do better. Crucially, I want to ask it to come up with policy proposals and evidence-based advice on lifelong learning. We do a very good job of educating our children, getting them through school, getting more and more of them into third level and out the other side and on they go. There is more work to be done there but that is going relatively well. Looking at lifelong learning, however, we are not where we need to be. As I said in answer to an earlier question, more and more the learners of today and the learner of the future will be not just 18 or 19; they will be 45, 55 or 65. They will have a job, a house and a mortgage. They could have children and dependants. They will need to access skills and upskilling and reskilling in a much more flexible way. They might need to be provided online, after the working day, remotely or in microcredential form. That is where the benefit of this still relatively new Department can be, in terms of developing the policy proposal on creating a lifelong learning model that works for Ireland. I am really pleased that we have now commissioned the OECD to do that body of work. It will engage with all stakeholders throughout the course of 2022. Indeed, it has already started. I want to be in a position to be able to advise the Government of policy proposals we should consider to improve lifelong learning rates in our country.

On the basis of the information currently available, is it possible to identify to a reasonably accurate extent the availability of sufficient students who can graduate in the time ahead in order to be able to fill the positions that are now becoming available very regularly, as opposed to what happened in the past, when we had to export our population to get jobs abroad? The jobs are here now and we need to fill them to a greater degree in the future.

The short answer is "Yes".

We have a good pipeline of graduates and apprentices. One of the decisions taken by Government and by my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage in recent weeks and months - providing certainty of funding for construction and public investment in construction for the years ahead - can provide an assurance to people looking to work in construction that there will be work, jobs and well-paid jobs in this sector not just this year or next year, but right through for the next number of years. Anybody involved in the housing debate, an honest one, will know two things: first, that the State is going to spend a lot of money on investment in housing in the coming years; and second, that there is going to be a requirement for many more people to work in the sector. I hope that sends out a message to our young - and not so young - talented people abroad that they can come back to this country and work in this sector, which is a sector, let us be honest, that was decimated during the bad years. Second, I hope it sends a message to the young 16-year-olds, 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds sitting in a classroom today or tomorrow, that all of a sudden housing, construction, retrofitting are real areas where there are well-paid jobs available now and into the future.

The Minister made an interesting comment to the people in Celbridge yesterday. He said that nobody should be left behind and that each student is an investment in the future, in the economy and in the quality of life. It is important to recognise that and encourage the people who may feel, for one reason or another, a lack of confidence or whatever, or that they cannot compete. They can, and with continued support, they will. Is the Minister satisfied that sufficient support is made available for them and will be available in the future?

I am satisfied that we are beginning to make progress, but I am not satisfied that we are there yet, to be truthful. We need Youthreach to be much more prominent as an option for young people who have difficulty with school for a whole variety of reasons. We need to help them get to Youthreach, be made aware of it and have a better understanding of it.

We need to get real about adult literacy. We live in a knowledge-based economy of well-educated people, but nearly one in five of us cannot read, nearly one in four of us cannot understand numbers, for example, on our ESB bill, and almost one in two of us lacks basic digital skills. We cannot leave people locked out. That is why we have launched our new adult literacy plan, the first ever ten-year adult literacy, numeracy and digital skills plan. We have not just launched a plan; we now have money to hire a literacy co-ordinator in every ETB in Ireland in 2022.

We must move beyond the narrow view of education that it is age-bound or that it is just for some people. It must be for everybody and it must be provided in a way that works for everyone. There are still too many people who are at risk of being locked of full economic or societal participation if we do not get this right.

Questions Nos. 73 to 88, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.