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PLC Sector Hit Hard by Budget 2013

plc-education-cutsPost Leaving Certificate courses are increasingly important for obtaining employment in these uncertain times. They are vital for school leavers and adult learners who need to up skill or add value to their existing portfolio of skills that may allow them to enter the workforce. Given this need, Budget 2013 has unfortunately delivered a body blow to learners and colleges alike by changing the current teacher pupil ratio from 17:1 to 19:1.

Cuts across the Sector

Despite a succession of education ministers talking about the need to be rid of inequality in education, Budget 2013 was a bad news day for anyone in the further education sector. The change in pupil teacher ratio will mean the loss of up to 200 full time jobs and 500 non-permanent posts being cut or reduced in hours.

A host of dedicated establishments including colleges, post primary schools and other education centres provide post Leaving Certificate courses and further education. For recovery of the economy, a well-educated workforce with in-demand skills is a key component and it seems counter productive to apply these cuts at a time when the sector is needed most.

Value of PLCs and Further Education

The further education sector offers many alternatives to those who are disadvantaged and unemployed or who need a second opportunity to become qualified. Already stretched to the limits, many colleges take on students without funding, so these budget cuts will strain an already over-stressed system

It is nonsensical for qualified teachers to be consigned to the dole queue when they are playing an important role in economic recovery by educating the current and future work force of Ireland. Not only will social welfare costs be applicable to the newly unemployed teachers, but also to the pupils who will find the doors closed when they are denied a place on a course due to lack of teaching resources.

Some required skills for today’s marketplace are specialised and without any resources to pass on this knowledge business critical skills cannot be delivered to the potential work force. A nation with an unemployment rate of some 15% and a youth unemployment rate of 25% (under 25 years) needs innovative educators to retrain and educate this untapped source of economic recovery.

Future Workforce in Jeopardy

Some of the people who will suffer from the budget cuts might be future entrepreneurs, engineers, IT people, or marketers, who may never realise their potential or have to wait on the dole queue for a chance at retraining. These people may be without prior qualifications and formal skills and many may have left formal education for the lure of the Celtic Tiger. They are now back from the easy money years realising they need to obtain relevant qualifications to ring fence their future financial security and marketability. There are also those whose employment sector has collapsed and there are no opportunities available to them, and parents who stayed home to raise children all of who want to train or up skill

The increase in the pupil-teacher ratio means that many new courses that have context within our EU membership such as green energy will take the hit while cutting edge technology courses for instance, cloud computing will also suffer.

Training Allowances Reduced

The impact of the change to pupil teacher ratio is only one edge of the sword; budgetary cuts also hit the training allowances, which have been reduced. Participants in different schemes via Fás, VTOS, and Youthreach, who move from jobseekers’ payments, will not be eligible for an increase to the maximum €188 each week but will be capped at €160 per week for under 25’s. Capitation rates in colleges providing PLCs and further education is also reduced by 2%.

Effective from January 2013, the back to education allowance of €300 is discontinued for all participants new and existing. Back to education allowance will be discontinued for new and existing participants. These cuts may be enough to put the chance of education out of the reach of keen students who will not be able to bear the costs, given the increase in fuel costs and commuting.

Budget 2013 has set back the education sector just as more than at any other time it needs to deliver an educated workforce. For those who are unemployed, frustrated and striving to make change in their lives, these cuts have slashed the odds on available courses, and affordability of attending college.

Continuing to squeeze essential services for every last cent leaves not only education but also the government in disarray. With emigration on an unprecedented scale particularly at graduate level, a throughput of newly skilled people is needed across all sectors as economic growth is achieved. Without this, there is likely to be a skills gap in the future, and people are denied the chance to make a valid contribution to the country. The government need to think strategically instead of implementing knee jerk solutions.

Denise Colebrooke