New government to favour FE

June 13, 1997

FURTHER education will benefit from the new administration in the Irish Republic following last week's general election, which resulted in a hung Dail - the lower house of parliament.

All the main parties were committed to setting up a Further Education Authority, probably on a statutory basis, and to awarding maintenance grants to further education students.

The further education sector has grown enormously in recent years, but in a somewhat unregulated fashion. Every year about 60,000 students take the secondary school leaving certificate examination. About half go to university or higher education college, while a quarter enrol for vocational Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses. They are up to three years long and have a high placement rate in employment.

When university fees were abolished last year, fees for PLC courses were also scrapped, but maintenance grants were not awarded. In the run-up to the election, students, parents and teachers campaigned for the extension of grants to PLC students.

The new government is expected to promote PLC courses geared to the rapidly expanding tele-services sector, where there is a shortage of people with language skills. Investment will also be made in computing technician level courses, again to meet emerging skill shortages.

Fianna Fail, which is expected to lead the new government, has promised to appoint an expert group to introduce better coordination between the further and higher education sectors.

It has also promised to examine the equity of the case made by private third-level colleges to have their student fees paid by the state. The sector has been threatening legal action unless its students secure free tuition for state-approved courses.

The new government is also expected to encourage more disadvantaged young people to proceed to higher education.

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