I congratulate the Minister on her appointment to the Department of Education and Skills. I look forward to working with her over the remaining term of this Dáil to try to further education provision to our citizens. It is a huge task and there are many pressing issues. I am sure the Minister will have a very busy summer reading the portfolio, particularly with a number of immediate concerns that need to be addressed.
I refer to community education. The Minister will be aware from briefings before taking this Topical Issue matter that an issue arises with regard to what is known as a re-engagement fee for community education providers with Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI. QQI is proposing to charge a fee to existing providers of registered FETAC community education groups that want to continue to offer accredited programmes under the National Framework of Qualifications, NFQ.
I am sure the Minister is aware from her constituency of the value of community education groups. They offer a quality education provision that is learner centred, responds to the local communities needs, and has the ability to tailor particular courses to those individuals. The progression rates for those individuals who have taken part in community education provision are very successful. They offer a number of things the statutory and private sector does not have the ability to offer. They offer education in local communities that is learner centred. They appeal to individuals who may have been out of the education for many years or who may not have had positive experiences when they were in education. They offer a ray of hope to individuals who I am sure feel very far removed from the labour market. The value of community education is there for everyone to see. They are also very effective in reaching individuals who are long-term unemployed and looking to upskill and increase their ability to get back into the labour market.
Community education provision is dependent on the ability to continue to offer accredited programmes. We do not know yet what will be the proposed re-engagement fee. QQI is due to report back to the Minister's Department on this issue but some of the figures bandied about, which are probably accurate, are in the region of €5,000. Many of the community education providers are under-funded. They do not have access to large sums of money.
It will force many of the community education providers to re-evaluation their position. The ability of a community education provider to provide these accredited courses, which are vital to local communities, will be affected if this fee is imposed by QQI.
We ask that the Minister's Department take a look at this. I know there is a proposal in some quarters that community education providers should come together and form consortiums. In theory, that would seem to be a realistic solution but in practice, it would negate the very ethos of what community education provision is about. Many of these groups are stand alone and the value is there to be seem. I ask the Minister to comment on that.