I propose to take Questions Nos. 147, 163, 324, 325, 326, 327, 328 and 329 together.
One of my goals as Minister is to ensure that potential learners have access to the educational pathways that allow them reach their potential in a way that meets the very broad and rapidly changing needs of our labour force, the economy and society. It is therefore my objective to ensure that there is access into either further or higher education for each person who wishes to pursue educational options at third-level.
Our higher education system has expanded significantly over the past number of years, from 209,300 enrolments in 2014 to 245,700 enrolments in 2020. The most recent projections of full-time enrolment in higher education predict that enrolments will rise a further 13% over the next decade, and work is ongoing to build capacity within the system to accommodate this increase. Work is also ongoing on an updated set of enrolment projections for higher education, which will further assist in this capacity-building programme of work. My Department does not currently produce specific projections for the number of higher education graduates, as a number of variables can impact graduate output in any one year.
We are also working to strengthen the further education and training system under a new strategy for that sector. This will help ensure that our tertiary education system as a whole equips our students with the knowledge, skills and expertise required to secure good quality, well paid and sustainable employment.
The Action Plan for Apprenticeship sets out new ways of structuring, funding, and promoting apprenticeships with a target of 10,000 apprenticeship registrations per year by 2025. In 2021, a record 8,607 new apprentices were registered- an almost 40% increase on the figures from 2019, the last “normal” pre-pandemic year.
Development of new apprenticeship programmes has continued despite the pandemic challenges, There are currently 65 apprenticeship programmes on offer: 25 craft programmes and 40 programmes introduced since 2016. Eight new programmes were launched over 2020 and 2021, despite the pandemic; Arboriculture, Equipment Systems Engineer, Healthcare Assistant, Principal Engineer – Professional Doctorate, Recruitment Executive, Sales, Scaffolding and Supply Chain Associate. These new apprenticeships are developed in response to particular skills needs in the workforce.
There are a number of key strategies in place at all levels to ensure we meet existing and future skills demands. These include policies designed to ensure a pipeline of suitably qualified science and technical graduates, and initiatives to equip young people and the working population more generally with the skills and capacity to meet these demands. Central to shaping these strategies is the partnership approach between the Further and Higher Education system and Government, Industry, the National Skills Council, the National Training Fund Advisory Group, the Regional Skills Fora and the Apprenticeship Council.
The National Skills Council (NSC) within its remit advises on the prioritisation of identified skills needs and on how to secure delivery of these needs. Key high level trends identified at recent NSC meetings include automation and digitisation, digital literacy and transversal skills. Information on these trends is then use to formulate our skills strategies and initiatives such as the National Skills Strategy 2025; Technology Skills 2022; Springboard+ and the Human Capital Initiative.
My Department will continue to advance efforts to ensure that Ireland offers learning opportunities to all who wish to pursue then, and produces the graduates the workforce needs with the skills that our economy and society require.