Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Asylum Seekers

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

78. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if he will remove non-EU third-level education fees for asylums seekers in order that they can be treated as domestic students in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31376/20]

I have a very specific question on non-EU fees being charged to asylum seekers and making it completely impossible for them to access third level education.

My answer will be much the same as the one I gave to Deputy Barry because the question is very similar and important. I say on the record of the House that it is not right and I am clear on that. What am I doing about it? The first thing we did was to make amendments in August to the student support scheme which was welcomed by the Irish Refugee Council. I do not see this as the end. The expert group report which is looking at the whole issue of asylum direct provision and chaired by Dr. Catherine Day came to Cabinet today and is due to be published tomorrow. The Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, is due to produce a White Paper on international protection by the end of the year. I hope through that process to be able to advance some of these issues. I do not think our thinking is very far apart on this issue.

My apologies as I have only heard the tail-end of the Minister’s reply so I only caught some of it but I welcome it and I welcome that Dr. Catherine Day’s report is going to be published tomorrow. Does the Minister have any idea of the number of asylum seekers who cannot attend university in Ireland simply because of finances and lack of resources? From a newspaper report I understand that three got places in university but did not come under the criteria.

I appreciate that he made a very welcome change in August 2020 and I thank him for that. There is a long history there in the easing up of restrictions and in making it more humane. It took a pilot project five years ago on third level education and the McMahon report. I know that the restrictions were changed from five to three but my information is that there is a considerable if finite number of people that we could very easily deal with.

I do not have the numbers for the specific question but I have a number that is interesting. The number of people who applied under the administrative student support scheme for asylum seekers this year is at 86, as of 12 October. That is more than have applied and have been successful in the past five years put together. Over the past five years the figure was 79, from 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, that is in those five academic years. In this year alone it has been 86 which is a welcome improvement. I have no doubt that this will become more of an issue because there have been a number of children affected by a referendum on citizenship that I did not and would not have supported. The changes from that have left many children here in our country who could very well have fallen into that category. They have been brought up in this country and are as Irish, in my view, as I or the Deputy is. When these people reach college age they will not, as things currently stand, have an entitlement to free fees. We need to look at that.

Questions Nos. 79 to 82, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Student Accommodation

Rose Conway-Walsh

Ceist:

83. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the status of his commitment to work with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to ensure private providers of student accommodation would show decency and refund deposits and rent paid by students who no longer need the accommodation due to changes in their timetable and time on campus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31357/20]

This is a very important question which relates to my first one and asks the Minister what he is doing to ensure that private providers of student accommodation would show decency and refund deposits and rent paid by students who no longer need accommodation due to changes in the timetable and time on the campus? The Union of Students in Ireland has continuously called for emergency protection for such students.

We already discussed an issue in an earlier question, and the Deputy has rightly differentiated the two issues, and have already discussed what we are doing as to on-campus accommodation. We have a clear obligation in that regard for universities to provide refunds and such flexible solutions.

As to private providers, I urge all providers to be flexible in finding solutions given the extraordinary circumstances in which students find themselves. This is not a normal year. I have to be truthful to the House in saying that there are no powers available to me under the current legal framework to direct any particular course of action. Refund or cancellation policies in student accommodation should be set out in the licence agreements signed at the beginning of the academic year. That is the legal reality as of today.

In the first instance I am advised that students should engage with their accommodation provider to see if an arrangement can be reached. Students have access to the Residential Tenancies Board and the dispute resolution service. I have asked my Department to continue to engage with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. I am aware that the Union of Students in Ireland had a meeting with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage in September, I believe. I have asked my Department to revert to me to see if there are any further developments or actions that we could take to try to assist students in this regard. To be very clear, I agree with the Deputy on the need for people to do the decent thing and I will continue to engage with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage in this regard.

A memo was brought to Cabinet to investigate banning evictions, as was done in the previous lockdown. This is sorely needed and should never have been removed. It was needed even before the Covid-19 pandemic. Where is the same urgency when it comes to students? Students are in a unique position in the rental market as they are often asked to pay months in advance. This runs into thousands of euro for hard-pressed families and students. When requesting refunds for unused accommodation they are told that there is no protective legislation in place for student renters and that they will not be entitled to their money back. That is not good enough and successive Governments have failed students and their families. There are some small-scale landlords who rent one property or even a room in their own home. Their ability to get by is important but students and their families should not always be the ones shouldering the financial burden. Will the small-scale operators letting to students be able to access the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, if they let students out of the lease and give refunds? We cannot just leave these students having paid thousands of euro to private landlords. We have to intervene.

The Deputy raises an interesting point on the CRSS. This is well outside the remit of my Department but I will raise it with my colleague, the Minister for Finance, and will revert to the Deputy on this issue. My understanding is that businesses which cannot continue to operate or operate at restrictive levels can avail of this support. It is a fair point to ask if these landlords fit into that category. I will check that and revert to the Deputy.

What I have been focusing in trying to do is to pull the levers that I have directly within my control - I will not go through all of them again - such as the financial support scheme, the student assistance fund, the mental health support and the educational disadvantage fund. We have taken up as many different proactive ways as we can to try to support students. We have taken very specific action on campus and university-owned accommodation. I accept that there is a group of students in respect of private accommodation where I have been honest with the House as to my legal powers. I have made it very clear what I would like to see happen and I am engaging with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to see if anything further can happen.

The Government must bear some responsibility for this as to the institutions, the late timetables and announcements. Students are struggling immensely, emotionally, financially and socially. The anger and sense of injustice they feel is really palpable. We are asking them to adhere to level 5 restrictions. We need to bring them with us and to show solidarity with them. Level 5 counts as use prevention.

Surely that means we must put in place measures to ensure they are given fair play. We cannot be observers of this escalating situation. The Government must step in with measures that will ensure students get refunded for accommodation we are preventing them from using. It really is time to act. All higher level accommodation providers must be instructed and enabled to allow for leases to be terminated without incurring fees and penalties and full refunds to be issued to those who request them. If that means introducing emergency legislation then that is what needs to be done. The aggregate amount of money that is being handed over to landlords for something that students and families will never use is desperate.

While I agree with much of the sentiment of what the Deputy has said, how we make these things happen is the challenge we have in Government. We have tried to take all of the actions we can take that are at our disposal in terms of how we financially support students and their families, recognising that this has been a year of extraordinary challenge and one no student could have imagined. I do not wish to be argumentative at this hour of the night but I do not believe it is particularly fair to suggest we have been slow or late in respect of the decision-making. When we look at other jurisdictions across the European Union and the likes we moved swiftly in saying to students that we need to move on-site, and students were very responsible in that regard. Had we not done that we would have ended up in a much deeper difficulty for more students in respect of student accommodation. I am committed to continuing to call out private landlords in terms of their responsibility to do the right thing, show the flexibility that is required and work with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. I have already asked my officials to continue to engage with that Department to see if there is more that can be done in this space.

Questions Nos. 84 and 85 replied to with Written Answers.

Bullying in Educational Institutions

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

86. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the extent to which allegations of bullying in academia have been identified and resolved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31279/20]

My question refers to allegations of bullying alleged to have taken place or that is still taking place in third level institutions and to request that an investigation be carried out.

I thank Deputy Durkan for the question. I am greatly concerned by the issues of both sexual harassment and bullying that have emerged in respect of both staff and students within higher education institutions.  

Our higher education institutions, HEIs, should be and must be a place of inclusivity, tolerance, respect and quality. Our higher education institutions have a duty of care to their students and staff, and a responsibility to foster a campus culture that is clear in the condemnation of unwanted and unacceptable behaviours, which act as a barrier to their safety and their active participation in college or work life.

On 4 August 2020, in my first letter to university presidents, I wrote to the presidents of all publicly funded higher education institutions and I have requested that they develop and publish, by February 2021, specific institutional action plans on tackling sexual violence and harassment. We can have all the frameworks we want but we need specific plans for individual institutions. What will they do to make their campus deal appropriately with any issues of bullying, sexual harassment or violence? These action plans will involve the implementation of systems that record the number of incidents of bullying, intimidation or harassment including sexual harassment. I have given the Higher Education Authority a new role in overseeing the framework for consent in regard to HEIs and statistics will be reported annually to the HEA once the action plans in each institution are in place.

I have also requested that a survey be undertaken on harassment, sexual harassment and bullying of both staff and students in higher education institutions. The planning of this survey has commenced, and the HEA is consulting with the Irish Universities Association and the Technological Higher Education Association in this regard.

We will have legislation before this House, probably in the new year, on how we overhaul governance of this sector. I believe that is badly needed and there will be a chance for us to debate how best to ensure there is legislative protection and proper governance and oversight of institutions also. I want the Deputy to know that I am extremely committed to ensuring a safe and respectful environment for all staff and students in our higher education institutions and I hope the steps I am undertaking upon entering office will help to contribute significantly to the realisation of this objective.

I thank the Minister. Was it a surprise that this activity was ongoing in third level institutions? Had there been many complaints made over the years in respect of it and, if so, what was done about them? Are they ongoing and being investigated? Presumably, the survey being done will uncover some of that. Is the Minister satisfied that the action being taken now will be adequate to stamp out this kind of activity once and for all?

I do not think any one of us can be surprised that in any workplace in any environment bullying and harassment can take place but to be honest I am surprised, and I do not consider myself as having lived under a rock, at the scale and amount of it I am hearing, particularly when it comes to sexual harassment and violence. I have convened the national advisory group, chaired by the National Women's Council of Ireland, which advised me on these issues. The Union of Students in Ireland, USI, are on it also along with lecturers. Some very good work is being done across the system but I am alarmed by the results of the survey carried out by NUI Galway and USI in regard to sexual harassment and violence. We need to remember that while universities are autonomous institutions we fund them. Autonomy can never be an excuse for not having the most robust procedures in place. In terms of the data the Deputy looked for, because they are autonomous I do not have a collated version of that available to me now but I believe these action plans, with oversight and implementation from the Higher Education Authority, it having an oversight role in implementation, could potentially be a very positive development. We need a big cultural shift and I want to try to bring that about.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. Complaints were made to the institutions. Can he give any indication at this stage as to what the response was on foot of those complaints? Were they taken seriously? Was any internal investigation carried out at the time, which one would have expected to take place? If so, what action, if any, was taken? Was there a common reaction or no reaction or action at all?

I do not have that comprehensive information available to me tonight but I will get more information for the Deputy on it. I would refer to an example that is in the public domain. It is in respect of Dr. Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin who I have met on two occasions and am in contact with. The way she was treated was absolutely disgraceful. To get to the core of the Deputy's question, it is clear that in all cases they have not been dealt with properly, and Dr. Ní Shúilleabháin's case is an example. What we need to do as policy makers and legislators, and what I need to do as a Minister, is use that example to help bring about the cultural change that needs to be brought about. My instinct is that we cannot deal with all of these issues as human resources, HR, matters. They are not HR matters. There are not two sides to a sexual harassment issue. It is not some sort of petty disagreement. It is a potential criminal offence. It is criminal wrongdoing. The way some of the institutions have dealt with these issues is quite concerning. That is one case we all know about because Dr. Ní Shúilleabháin spoke about it publicly, and we thank her very much for doing that. That has to be a real impetus to help bring about the sort of change the Deputy is talking about.

Questions Nos. 87 to 90, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Apprenticeship Programmes

Rose Conway-Walsh

Ceist:

91. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the amount allocated in additional funding in budget 2021 to craft apprenticeships; the number of consortia-led apprenticeships which have been created since 2016; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31359/20]

This question relates to the additional funding that has been allocated to craft apprenticeships and to ask the Minister about the number of consortia-led apprenticeships which have been created since 2016. I very much welcome the extra money that has been put into apprenticeships but I want the information to be accessible to people. I want more encouragement for students and young people to take up apprenticeships.

I thank the Deputy for her question. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated education and training centre closures, the number of craft apprenticeship classes that could be run in 2020 was reduced. Some €12 million is being provided in 2021 to fund 2,000 apprenticeship places to mitigate the effect of lost provision in 2020 and the effect of smaller apprenticeship class sizes required by social distancing measures.

The apprenticeship incentivisation scheme, which provides a grant of €3,000 to employers for each new apprentice registered, is also being extended for the first half of 2021. This applies to all apprenticeships, including in the craft area, and is expected to support at least 3,500 employers in the first six months of 2021 at a cost of €7 million in 2021 and a further €3.5 million in 2022.

Some €2,000 of the grant is paid once the apprentice is registered, and a further €1,000 is paid after one year if the apprentice is still employed at that point.

Second-stage payments for the 2020 registrations under the scheme will be in excess of €3.7 million in 2021. Longer-term funding and support measures will be considered in the context of the next action plan for apprenticeship, which will be completed before the end of the year.

Thirty-three consortia-led apprenticeships have been launched since 2016, with a further three to launch before the end of the year. These are in diverse areas, such as biopharma, insurance, ICT and recruitment. Programmes range from two to four years and lead to qualifications at Quality and Qualifications Ireland levels 5 to 10. In addition, there are 20 more programmes in development.

I thank the Minister of State. I very much welcome that. Is there a single portal where young people can gain access to information on apprenticeships? Could we think about developing a separate app just for apprenticeships so we could make people, particularly the young, aware of what is available and what an apprenticeship might mean for them? Over recent years, apprenticeships have been the poor relation to third level education. There is no point in our having all these apprenticeships if we are not communicating effectively with the people who need to access them and if we are not encouraging people and dealing with employers. We know from research that a genuine issue arises over career guidance available to students. This has a knock-on effect.

I thank the Deputy. To answer her question, there is a single portal, www.apprenticeships.ie, which is quite all-encompassing and gives as much information as is readily available on the range of apprenticeships. The Minister and I have encouraged people at every opportunity to access it.

On the question on what is being done to attract more young people to apprenticeships, the national promotional campaign Generation Apprenticeship has been under way since May 2017. It has been designed to influence parents, teachers and potential apprentices on the career paths and further educational opportunities arising from apprenticeship programmes. I refer to the rolling out of the 2020 Generation Apprenticeship competition at second level, involving 156 second level schools, youthreach centres and community training centres, and the launch of the apprenticeship jobs platform in April 2019 to enhance the accessibility of apprenticeship job vacancies. The Minister and I agree with the Deputy and we have said publicly on many occasions that more has to be done to promote apprenticeships as a viable career path and a way of obtaining a real and meaningful job. The days of apprenticeships being the poor relation should be consigned to history forever.

I thank the Minister of State for that. We are all on the same page regarding apprenticeships and their encouragement. We know their value, particularly in rural communities where people may want to set up their own small businesses or be self-employed after gaining a qualification. I look forward to working with the Minister of State in the development of new apprenticeships in all kinds of new fields to meet the demand, particularly in respect of green energy given its potential.

The Deputy may be aware that the process of preparing the new apprenticeship action plan 2021-25 is under way. It will consider all aspects of the current system, together with the relevant international research, to ensure the apprenticeship system is best placed to respond to the long-term economic needs and will be resilient and flexible enough to meet the short-term challenges. Fifty-eight responses were received in the initial public consultation process. The regional skills fora have provided feedback from local research into SME requirements. An apprentice questionnaire is due to be issued in the near future.

Questions Nos. 92 to 99, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Further and Higher Education

Rose Conway-Walsh

Ceist:

100. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if the 10,000 upskilling and reskilling places, 4,000 apprenticeships, 5,000 higher education places and the 1,500 Springboard places separate from and in addition to the 35,000 further and higher education places announced as part of the July stimulus package; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31360/20]

This is a fairly straightforward question. It is just seeking clarification on the 10,000 upskilling and reskilling places, the 4,000 apprenticeships, the 5,000 higher education places and the 1,500 Springboard places. Are they in addition to the 35,000 further and higher education places announced as part of the July stimulus package?

They are in addition. The intention is that the total number, between the July stimulus and the budget, should be 50,000.

I thank the Minister for that. We just needed clarification because we are trying to get an exact picture of how many places are available and the opportunities that exist. It is important that we communicate these and ensure everybody is included. We must remove any barriers. Sometimes the criteria for some of the upskilling jobs are such that they do not fit the candidates. Particularly in these circumstances, we need to remove all barriers to opportunities so people will not be held back by stringent criteria.

I agree with the Deputy.

Questions Nos. 101 to 103, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Student Assistance Fund

Rose Conway-Walsh

Ceist:

117. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the mechanism or criteria for distributing the student hardship fund announced as part of budget 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31361/20]

Gerald Nash

Ceist:

483. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the way in which the proposed €50 million student assistance fund proposed in budget 2021 will be administered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31288/20]

Gerald Nash

Ceist:

484. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if part-time students will have access to the €50 million student assistance fund proposed in budget 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31289/20]

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

503. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the way in which the €50 million hardship fund will be distributed to the students that are in the most need. [31772/20]

I believe the Minister already answered this question having regard to the distribution of the student hardship fund announced as part of budget 2021. I very much welcome that. I welcome the fact that the Minister says the funding can go towards the student contribution fee because so many people are excluded from Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grants. I am aware that the SUSI grant needs to be increased as it has not been increased since 2012 but I am trying to capture the people who are in genuine financial difficulty and who are still not eligible for a SUSI grant.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 117, 483, 484 and 503 together.

I announced on budget day the intention to have a full review of SUSI, which the Deputy has been calling for. It will start this year and conclude next summer. It is badly needed so we can plan in advance of the next budget what student supports need to look like now. SUSI has worked pretty well as a scheme but equally I believe things have moved on and the scheme needs to adjust.

The two areas I am considering in regard to the €50 million student support scheme are the once-off SUSI top-up and a small rebate. The fund is €50 million. Obviously, the greater the number of students, the smaller the amount per student but, roughly speaking, dividing €50 million by the number of full-time higher education students, 200,000, gives about €250 each. The SUSI top-up and a potential rebate to an account one paid one's contribution fee out of probably comprise the most straightforward approach but we will make a firm decision on that in the coming days.

I thank the Minister. I welcome any opportunity to ease the financial burden on students. We need to lower the high student fees. Our success story for further education would be that nobody would have to be awake at night worrying about whether he or she could send a child to college. We have to make it affordable and examine people's real-life financial circumstances. We cannot have circumstances in which people who are very capable of doing all types of third level courses must make a decision not to do one because of the financial impact on their family. The hardship fund is one way of addressing this. I am aware that the Minister will acknowledge that this is only a tiny part of the journey we need to travel.

I acknowledge that. How to do it in a sustainable manner is a question all of us in this House will have to face up to. This is not a partisan comment but I do believe there has been a generation of political cowardice in regard to the question of a sustainable funding model for higher education. We have the Cassells report. The previous Oireachtas, on an all-party basis, asked for an economic evaluation.

It is currently under way with the input of the European Commission and it is due back at the start of 2021. The year 2021 should be the year where we try to settle that question. I have my own views, which I shared with the Deputy at the Oireachtas education committee. I am very nervous of the student loan model because I think that can be a barrier, real and perceived, in terms of the level of debt people are taking on at a very early stage in life. I will await the outcome of the report which, as I said, is due at the start of 2021.

I share the Minister's concerns about the student loan model. We need to get this model right such that it will serve students and their families. We need to do that as a matter of urgency and we need to look at education as an investment and not purely a cost. We do not want our students to be leaving college, or worse still to be forced to drop out of college, because of financial circumstances. I look forward to working with the Minister on it.

In my haste, I passed over Deputy Durkan's question. We will return to Question No. 104.

Further Education and Training Programmes

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

104. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the degree to which he expects to influence the higher education system to ensure the ongoing availability of a steady stream of highly qualified technicians and academics on par with the best in the world, thus providing a workforce competent in the skills now required in the workplace; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31280/20]

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

492. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the extent to which he has observed a shortfall in the number of graduates emerging from third-level in any of the disciplines; if corrective measures may be appropriate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31674/20]

This question relates to the likely requirement of a very high level of technical and academic excellence in the future to meet the demands of an increasingly competitive workplace.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 104 and 492 together.

One of the reasons my Department was established was to recognise that there needs to be an interface between the education system at higher education level and industry regional skills fora. Education has a massive value above and beyond economic, of that there is no doubt, but we also need to have a robust higher education system to deliver the jobs of the future and to ensure that Ireland's competitiveness is protected. I genuinely believe the battle in the future is not going to be to locate the factory to the country, rather it is going to be to keep the talent in the country and locate the talent in the country and to ensure people want to come here, study here, learn here and start their career here.

I have had some very good meetings with the regional skills fora in regard to this issue. We need a reboot now with my new Department in terms of how we interface right across the country with businesses, not just multinationals, although that is important, but also with small and medium enterprises. I am on record that we have taken a too narrow and culturally snobby view to higher education, and I believe that. I was encouraged that the Provost of Trinity wrote an op-ed in The Irish Times last week in a similar space. There are many routes for people to get to the career they want. We have just discussed apprenticeships. It is one route. I have met people involved in apprenticeship programmes, where they are getting the education and the practical industry experience that they need.

I hear a lot of talk about climate change and climate action. I share that concern. We want to retrofit hundreds of thousands of homes. We cannot do that unless we have the skills we need to do it. This coming year we are going to try to train 2,000 people in retrofitting skills. There are skills shortages in a variety of areas in this country. Following the Covid pandemic, it is important that we do not just stick on training places for the sake of saying we are doing something, but that we match training places such that people have a decent opportunity of getting a high quality job at the end of it. We need to map out what those jobs in the future look like.

The National Skills Council is due to give me a report soon on the future skills needs of the Irish economy. I will be happy to share that with the Deputy.

In a previous incarnation, I had occasion to visit eastern Europe where great emphasis was placed on technical skills and on polytechnics and it produced very well qualified students. On the report which the Minister is awaiting, I welcome his response in respect of encouraging, through the educational system, the location of jobs with high skill requirements. This needs to continue well into the future. Regardless of whatever else exists, that particular situation, whereby highly skilled people are available to work in a workplace will always stand to us even in the face of competition. Is the Minister satisfied that we will be able to contend with the competition in the future given the investments that are taking place in all the locations worldwide at the same time?

I am, but we can only manage to maintain our competitiveness if we do not stand still and do not get complacent or too comfortable in terms of where we stand. We have seen great progress in Ireland over the last decade or so. Recent figures from the CSO Measuring Ireland’s Progress 2018 highlighted that Ireland has the highest rate of STEM graduates at 3.2% of population aged 20-29. This is an increase of one place since the 2017 figures and, encouragingly, it is well above the EU average of 1.9%. The report also highlighted that Ireland is third in the EU for those aged 25-34 with third level education and the overall level of education of the population has been rising steadily over time. Total higher graduate enrolments increased 9.2% between 2014-2015 and 2018-2019. There have been steady increases throughout a variety of years based on the figures available in the report.

We need to work on designing the education programmes to fit not just the economic needs at a macro level, but people's individual needs in terms of where they want to get to in life and what careers they want to pursue and how we help them to get there. This is some of the work that my Department needs to do to help design and develop those education programmes and the qualifications. Our universities also have to recognise that not everyone in life can sign up for four years. The person who wants to return to education at 40 or 50 might not be able to drop out of the labour force for two, three or four years. Micro credentials and modular learning are key developments we need as well.

Questions Nos. 105 to 116, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.
Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
The Dáil adjourned at 1.35 a.m. until 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 21 October 2020.