Farmers Assets targetted to Save on Cost of Education Grants

In 2011 there was an indication that farmers could lose their means assessed entitlement to education grants in the much feared and severe austerity budget. That indication could shortly become a stressful reality for the country’s farmers, who are abhorred by the idea of having to sell land to pay for their children’s. Others argue that the farmers’ fears are fears that most PAYE workers escape; with no land to sell, many in this category struggle to cope with the cost of third level education – especially the ones who marginally fail to meet the income criteria. Many do perceive that for years struggling PAYE workers are refused the grant, while the children of many asset-rich farmers get the full allowance. It is a contentious argument that divides politicians, parties, farming and non-farming families, and with the recent government announcements; this argument will only continue to escalate.

The Education Minister, Ruairi Quinn seems to be planning an imminent change to the means test for the third level grant – which means that farmland and business assets could soon be included for the first time as part of income. Farmers suspect that these measures might mean that all farming families will become ineligible for third level maintenance grants – even those farmers who are in receipt of social welfare to supplement their farm incomes; especially if assets and income are taken into account and not just actual income alone.

Currently, a student’s qualification for a student grant is based on their own income or the income of their parents (if they are under 23). But this new eligibility criteria could mean that in addition to their income, farmers will have the value of their capital – farm buildings, machinery and land included as part of their means. This would push most farming families over the income threshold and would rule out all farmers’ children from being eligible for third level grants.

Minister Quinn believes that there is unfairness in the current grants system, claiming it favours farmers and the self-employed. His argument is based on the current means test, which assesses the income of a student’s parents in the previous tax year. There has always been a widely-held view that children of farmers and the self-employed enjoyed a disproportionate percentage of college grants compared to PAYE workers. The possible and often realised reality is that farmers and the self-employed can be creative with their accounts to escape being refused the grant in a way that PAYE workers cannot. This can be achieved by increasing spending, such as on farm machinery, in the year before applying for a grant, in order to reduce their income and meet the qualifying criteria.

The Minister for Education is meeting considerable political opposition to his proposed means assessment changes. The Agricultural Minister, Simon Coveney, in sharp contrast to Mr.Quinn, has come out in defence of farmers and is adamant that assets remain separate to actual income. He argued that in Ireland, the revenue commissioners and the Department of Social Protection – use a person’s income rather than assets for means testing. He also has outlined that contrary to what the Minister of Education believes; only 6% of people who get grants at third level actually come from farm families, which is in contrast to Ruairi Quinn’s arguments of farmers getting preferential treatment when it comes to educational grants.

Maintenance grants are worth, on average, about €3,000 per college year which works out at around €90 per week – to students whose parents’ income is below a certain threshold. Now with the minister planning on taking farm assets into account in the means test, farmers will almost certainly be above this threshold.

Those close to the Minister say that his primary motivation for broadening the means test was to find a fairer way of ‘accurately targeting increasingly scarce resources to those who need them most’. With the draft report on grant assessment submitted to cabinet members; the results of their assessment will be made known by mid-September.

Therefore, only time will tell, whether or not farmers’ assets will be included as part of the grants means assessment. If Mr. Quinn’s educational grant amendments do go ahead; he faces a severe backlash from rural Ireland – a formidable lobby group.

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Institutes of Technology – Industrial and Student Engagers

Dundalk Institute of TechnologyIt was realised from the inception of Institutes of Technology, that they could play a significant part in developing a modern knowledge-led economy through a pro-active, creative and innovative approach to third level education. Their key to success and future success is a sustained focus on research, innovation and technology, and linking enterprise with research institutions in order to deliver innovative market-led products. The government has faith in their crucial role in economic development and recovery; their continued investment in the institutes is testament to this belief.

Institutes of Technology were first established in the 1970s with a view to focusing on the needs of students, enterprise and the wider economy. Their principals were based on fulfilling specific needs of students and ensuring that they were being taught in a way that would mould them into productive employees, leaders and researchers of the future. Their reason of being is based on encouraging and promoting interaction between themselves and external parties such as businesses, government and the community at large. They interact in ways that are unique and individual to them. Many ITs have developed niche areas of advanced research competence and have enhanced their engagement with local industry, and Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SME’s) in particular. Today, the 13 Institute of Technology’s have a lot to offer local industry and have built up excellent contacts and relationships with R&D performing companies.

They continually look for new and innovative ways of engaging with enterprise and have made significant contributions to the development of best practice in this area, through various initiatives such as Education in Employment, The Accelerating Campus Entrepreneurship and The Roadmap for Employment Academic Partnerships. Engagement with enterprise is central to everything that they do and it is at the root of the outstanding achievements for the ITs and their graduates – linking them together to create productive and beneficial partnerships.

ITs are now growing in popularity with school leavers and those engaging in lifelong learning because IT graduates are furnished with excellent knowledge, skills and experience so that they can gain employment in their chosen career. Institutes of Technology don’t just deliver the academic to their students; they ensure they are equipped with a toolbox of competencies, including: creativity, teamwork, innovation and entrepreneurship; key transferrable skills that define a successful professional in the workplace.

Students choose Institutes of Technology for well-founded reasons:

1. Graduates enjoy excellent prospects: Up to 97% of those who graduated from some ITs go onto further study or are employed. Up to 75% of these secure a permanent job.

2. Large number of Internships: A large number of IT programmes feature internships or practice placements, which give students an ideal opportunity to put into practice the material they are learning in the lecture theatre, while simultaneously building relationships with potential employers.

3. Postgraduate study opportunities: They offer an increasing array of taught and research-based postgraduate opportunities.

4. More people complete their studies: Some ITs have the highest retention rates in higher education along with completion rates for courses – often 6% higher than the national average.

5. Proven track record in securing research funding: ITs have a proven track record in securing substantial research funding, to the value of millions.

Ireland’s Institutes of Technology are flexible and dynamic university-level Institutes. Employers recognise that they are focused on teaching/learning, purpose-driven research, and public service. They are recognised as a major success story in Irish education and they are beginning to free themselves from the stigma of being the poor cousin of Universities in this country. The idea that a university degree has a higher value is now proven to be ill-founded; in fact many IT graduates have been successful over University graduates in securing positions. Many employers often favour an IT degree because it is more practical based and graduates have a more ‘hands-on’ work experience and work ethic. The Institutes provide programmes that reflect current and emerging knowledge and practices and promote self-management, critical analysis, decision making and entrepreneurship. They foster graduates ready to undertake roles, responsibilities and challenges in business, industry, the professions, public services and society. However, it has to be acknowledged that a university degree is valued and often chosen in preference to an IT degree for its own individual merits.

With such a high drop-out rate from some first and second year programmes from the University sector; an added advantage to ITs is that they operate a unique system in that they allow students to progress from two year programmes (associate degree programmes,) through to primary degree, to Masters and PhD level. Institutes of Technology awards are integrated with the highest award levels of the Irish National Qualification Framework which in turn is aligned to the Bologna Framework.

IT Students and graduates cite numerous positive personal experiences associated with being an IT student. There are also a number of advantages to taking the IT route when it comes to higher education: smaller class-room based lectures, which allow for relationships to be built up with ease; lecturers knowing if students are present or not; the practical approach to third level education; the support students receive (mentoring, study and personal support), even after graduation if needed; the sense of belonging to an intimate community of learners and lecturers regardless of the size of the Institute in question, and finally their connections and relationships to both industries and leaders in business – which IT students benefit from, in terms of work-experience but also in realising design and research ambitions.

Institutes of Technology are to the forefront in ensuring that Ireland’s modern economy continues to have the requisite array of leading-edge skills demanded by our knowledge and skilled based industries.

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Psychology Taster Weekend

Have you always been interested in Psychology?  Would you like to find out more about it?

Join Dr. Derek Dorris for a Taster Day where he will introduce you to the many strands of Psychology and its application.

Date: Saturday 18th August
Time: 10am-1pm
Venue: PCI College, Corrig House, Dublin 22.
Fees: €15 *

*This fee is deductable if you continue onto the Postgraduate Certificate in Psychology.

Brief outline of the day:

  • Introduction to Psychology
  • The many strands to Psychology
  • Psychology as a research science
  • Career choices within Psychology
  • The PCI Postgraduate Certificate in Psychology

Facilitator:

Dr. Derek Dorris

(B.A.), Masters (M.Litt.), and PhD in Psychology
Head of Psychology

Dr. Derek Dorris is one of Ireland’s leading cognitive scientists who previous to coming here held the position of College Lecturer in University College Cork for five years. Dr. Dorris is a graduate of University College Dublin where he obtained a degree (B.A.), Masters (M.Litt.), and PhD in Psychology. He has published in top ranked international peer-reviewed journals and in 2007 he was awarded the prestigious IRCHSS Postdoctoral Fellowship. His background is in cognitive psychology with specific interests in self-regulation, motor cognition, and sport psychology.

You can now enrol on this day online.

If you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact us on info@pcicollege.ie or 01-4642268.

www.pcicollege.ie

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New Grant Scheme by Trinity College

Trinity College Dublin (TCD), which is ranked as 65th in the top 100 world universities, has launched a new scheme in conjunction with the Bank of Ireland that will help parents cover the cost of the student contribution fee. The scheme is the first of its kind to be offered by an Irish university and is designed to ensure school leavers are able to access quality higher education, by removing a financial obstacle for some to higher education. The student loan programme is designed to help individuals afford the €2,250 annual Student Contribution Charge for undergraduates. Parents will be able to use the TCD Finance initiative to spread the cost of university through payments of €100 per month.

Trinity College Student’s Union worked with the college authorities and Bank of Ireland to develop and implement a financial package that will help alleviate some of the financial pressures faced by students of the college in the present climate and help ensure equality of access in the coming years. The Students’ Union is conscious of the fact that sustained increases in the Student Contribution Charge have led to a rise in the number of prospective students being excluded from third level education. The student contribution charge continues to rise; it is expected reach the figure of €3,000 by 2015.

Speaking at the launch of the initiative, outgoing Student’s Union President Ryan Bartlett, said: ‘This development will help a lot of students who were struggling with the annual increase in the Student Contribution Charge. The Students’ Union is delighted to have worked on an innovative scheme that will maintain access to Trinity College for current and prospective students. The partnership with Bank of Ireland has delivered a creative option to ease the problems of student financing.’

While TCDSU welcomes the new loan scheme, incoming President Rory Dunne has made the point that the union will continue to demand significant contribution by the government to both undergraduate and postgraduate education. ‘There are currently no financial support mechanisms for those under 23 who are autonomous from their parents and the union will continue its fight to ensure full equality of access in all third level institutions.’

Trinity College is a University conscious and mindful of the burdening financial difficulties faced by students and their families in financing a university education in a time of recession. In contrast, many feel that the Government is overlooking the harsh reality of how students are funding this charge and dismissing the students that are denied access to higher level education because they cannot afford this fee.

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) has written to higher education institutions requesting that they show flexibility and consideration to students awaiting a decision on their grant application and/or payment of grants for the current academic year. The minister of Education, in defence, said that it was at his request that the HEA sent a reminder to institutions requesting that flexibility be shown to students for the next academic year and to request that students be allowed pay the charge in two instalments if required.

As part of this new loan scheme; Parents of Trinity College Dublin students are to be offered low cost loans to cover the contribution fee from this autumn. The bank said it is working with other interested universities to roll out this product for students who are required to pay the full student contribution charge. Loans for the scheme will be offered by Bank of Ireland at a lower rate than standard lending products (5.1 per cent variable APR). Once the student graduates the loan amount increases and reverts to the standard graduate rate of 9.7 per cent variable for three years. In order to qualify parents must meet the standard lending criteria and students are not eligible to apply for the loan. However, the debt will be transferred to the student on graduation, which is probably a welcome relief for parents and guardians!

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A Questionable Government Cut to Languages

The exorbitant amount of job alerts and job advertisements looking for graduates with one or more foreign language has become a common sighting for job seekers. A large percentage of unemployed graduates came from a school of thought who viewed learning a foreign language in secondary school as ‘boring’ and far from ‘necessary’.  This perception, coupled with languages not being compulsory in our education system resulted in a majority making great efforts to avoid languages for the leaving certificate.Roll on to 2012, and we have a critical shortage of language skills in Ireland. However, ask a primary school child who has been learning French, German, Spanish or Italian as part of the Governments 14 year modern language ‘pilot’ scheme and they will tell you how much they looked forward to their one and half hour dedicated to learning a new language every week and more than likely they will be able to greet you bi-lingually!Therefore, it comes as a shocking surprise that The Modern Languages in Primary Schools Initiative (MLPSI) was wound up in June, to save a meagre €2.5 million, without a thought to the potential language graduates it would have produced one day, not to mention well-earning tax payers. Also, in the government’s well-informed knowledge of present and future skills needs shortages, with languages being a prominent one; how do they justify withdrawing funding for such an essential language scheme? More than 500 primary schools throughout the State have been participating in the initiative – officially a “pilot” programme – since 1998 which provided funding for the teaching of French, Spanish, German or Italian to fifth and sixth classes.

Last August a national languages strategy published by the Royal Irish Academy called for the initiative to be integrated into the mainstream primary curriculum, as was strongly recommended by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs back in 2005. However, rather than extending the opportunity of learning a modern language to all children from the age of 10, the decision was made to stop the scheme.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education and Skills, explained that the decision was made due to difficult economic circumstances and that the money being saved is going towards the implementation of a literacy and numeracy strategy, which is costing €19 million a year and will benefit all primary schools.

Deputy Micheál Martin, said: ‘The decision by the Minister for Education and Skills to abolish the modern languages in primary schools initiative was extremely regressive and short-sighted. After benefiting 550 primary schools and thousands of young children for 14 years, this positive initiative will shortly come to an end. The benefits of the scheme far outweigh its cost. In times of financial difficulty, initiatives such as this which provide excellent value for money should be kept in place rather than dismantled. A legitimate case can be made for expanding the programme in light of its value for money.’

In stark contrast, to our own Government, the British Government announced that all children are to be taught a foreign language from the age of seven, under reforms to their national curriculum. The introduction of compulsory language teaching in primary schools in England is aimed at boosting the numbers of students taking languages as exam subjects at secondary level.

School principals are quick to respond to the shocking cut, and they acknowledge that it is a step backwards where those who get exposure to a foreign language will be those coming from better socioeconomic backgrounds. It has been proven that giving children at a young age a taste for languages, often leads them to studying languages in higher education. IBEC have also come out to say that the decision is ‘unhelpful’, but hopes that the Government has an alternative plan for languages in the future.

It is a challenge to implement a programme for foreign languages at a time of financial crisis; but, to reap, you must sow. Failure to plant the seed for languages in young minds will continue the unfortunate cycle of a low up-take of languages in secondary school as a leaving certificate subject. This is regrettable as Ireland will possibly continue to fall behind other European countries when it comes to language skills and qualifications.

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Going to College in Recessionary Times

There are those who predict that the Bleak Economy will have far-Reaching effects on Higher Education: in terms of increased competition between HEIs; the future of courses on offer, the changing make-up of the student population (age wise and socio-economic background), along with students considering: is college worthwhile?

The now redundant promise that ‘getting a good education will automatically lead to economic success’ will force colleges to rethink their strategies if they are going to remain relevant to a recession affected student population, and remain competitive with colleges at home and abroad.

The daily papers often carry anecdotal letters to the respective editors from graduates lamenting the lack of opportunities after years of study and sacrifice. It’s the case of between a rock and a hard place: being overqualified for some vacancies or not having the relevant qualifications for others. What awaits a significant percentage are dole queues or government sponsored internships. An article of faith in this country has been that college is the gateway to a better life. So deeply held is this belief that many students will invest thousands to attain that ‘better life’. Parents will remortgage their homes or dip into life savings, even with the new-found knowledge, that the college payoff could be a long time coming — if it comes at all.

There was always going to be a price to pay for further education: a monetary and a time one. There are always the ‘ones who got away’ from college life, who went on to work their way up the ladder or who became self-made successful business people. With the cost of going to college on the increase and no guarantee of secure employment post-graduation, prospective students are considering travel, emigration, going into direct employment, and simply opting out of higher education.

To date, there has been no significant drop in application to CAO from leaving cert students; however it remains static. Around 80% of those who sit their leaving certificate are seeking a place in college. However, Universities and institutes of technology have seen a huge increase in applications from ‘mature students’. Widespread redundancies, the shrinking jobs market, and the demand for new and higher skills in the workplace are all factors in the surge in interest. The downturn has triggered an overall 7.5pc increase in demand for a college place, to a record 73,982 applications this year, according to the latest figures from the CAO. But, compared with the overall figure, applications from the over-23s have jumped by 31pc to 12,291. One in six applicants for a place in college is over 23, which is up from, one in eight last year.

College could be worthwhile if you are clever: clever about the course you pick and the relevancy of your choice to the employment market. There is also the necessity to be astute about how you manage financially and how to reduce the financial burden of pursuing higher education. It is often the case that students will opt to go to college in a popular city to do a course, despite the same course on offer in a city/town with a significant reduced living cost.

At this stage, we know that ‘Free Education’ is not necessarily free when it comes to the Irish education system. According to research carried out by a number of financial institutions, the costs of sending a student to college is more than €40,000 if a child is living away from home and that does not include college/student registration fees (which continue to increase).  Whilst, the Union of Students, in Ireland, has put the average cost of going to college for a year at €9,000.

If you are considering going to college or returning to college as a mature student: familiarise yourself with the costs involved and how you will be able to afford such costs. If you want to make college worthwhile for you: research the industries and sectors with current or predicted skills shortages. Look at your current skills/abilities and identify gaps in your qualifications; look at all the ways to fill these skill gaps. It does not always take a degree to make you employable: look to Distance learning providers, evening course providers, PLCs and adult education centres.

What is evident is that a number of industries have collapsed and show little sign of a revival. These include the construction industry. Therefore there isn’t much demand for skilled workers related to this area. Also, keep in mind the cuts to areas like education and how those cuts will affect the recruitment of new teachers. If you are interested in law – keep in mind the amount of law firms which have closed or have reduced their working hours. But, in contrast, there is a huge demand for graduates with a background in IT, Science, Business and languages.

Is college worthwhile? According to national statistics: graduates are less likely to be unemployed compared to those who have a Leaving Certificate. In addition to this: spending a few years studying towards a beneficial degree is not a bad way to pass away this recession.

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Leading Environmental Educators Visit the Burren

Landscape charity, the Burrenbeo Trust, will host some of America’s and Europe’s leading thinkers and practitioners specialising in place-based learning from August 22nd – 24th 2012 in Kinvara, Co. Galway. Titled ‘From Apathy to Empathy – Reconnecting People and Place’ this unique symposium was launched by the Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn TD in June, and has come a key time in Ireland’s need to re-focus on its sense of place.

Place-based learning encourages the use of the local environment as a learning resource. It immerses individuals in local heritage, culture and landscape, encouraging them to become more aware of their place. With over 20 talks and interactive sessions, this symposium will have something for everyone. Leading experts from the States, David Sobel (author, practitioner) and Prof David Orr (author, lecturer), and the UKs Gordon McKellan (Creeping Toad) and Tony Kendle (Eden Project) will be joined by our own place based educators such as John Feehan, Michael Gibbons, Katy Egan, Nessa Collins and many more as they participate in workshops and on-site demonstrations as well as guided walks and cultural events. Participants will be immersed in one of the nation’s most inspiring places and challenged to engage fully with this place and the issues that impact on them, learning lessons and techniques which can be adapted to their own place and its needs.

A spokesperson from Burrenbeo said ‘this is an exciting time for learning in Ireland, a time to get back to basics and focus on what is truly important. The Burren is an incredible place to experience some or all of the various aspects that go into creating a ‘sense of place’. Here we have a readily accessible range of cultural and natural heritage attributes – a wonderful ‘outdoor classroom. Ireland’s most perfect environment for place based learning and a landscape that truly supports us as we create a vision for our future.

The Learning Landscape Symposium will feature a combination of keynote lectures at the Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughan, themed workshops in venues across the beautiful village of Kinvara and site based workshops in the stunning Burren landscape. Areas that will be explored during the event include: what are the benefits, for people and places, of place-based learning? What is best practice worldwide in engaging and inspiring people with regard to their place? And how can the Burren, Ireland’s ultimate outdoor classroom, be better utilised and developed as a learning landscape?
This exciting event is open to everyone but booking in advance is essential. Further details on www.burrenbeo.com. The symposium costs €150 with discounts for Burrenbeo Trust members.

The symposium has been supported by the Heritage Council.

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Science – Key to Economic Recovery

The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton TD, and the Minister for Research and Innovation, Mr. Seán Sherlock TD, last week welcomed the opening of the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) in Dublin’s Convention Centre.

ESOF, often called the Olympics of Science, is the largest and most prestigious European general science meeting and is held in a leading European city every two years. The ESOF 2012 general science conference is the centrepiece of the activities that mark Dublin as the City of Science for 2012.

During the opening ceremony of ESOF, Minister Bruton said: ‘as a country we have a long history of scientific achievement, and in the past decade we have built upon that heritage with dramatic improvements in publicly-funded scientific research.  In 2003 Ireland was ranked 36th in the world for quality of scientific research output; in 2010 we were 20th. In 2000 our total spend on publicly-funded R&D was €290million; in 2010 it was over €800 million.’

As the government continues to seek realistic and prolific ways for Ireland to grow itself out of difficulties; they are looking at Ireland’s strengths in the area of science and research as key assets. It will be through their Action Plan for Jobs that the Government will implement a series of changes to ensure that research is properly commercialised so that they can turn good ideas into good jobs.

These changes include:

o      The approval of legislation to extend the remit of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) to include applied research.

o      The implementation of research prioritisation to ensure that publicly-funded research is aimed at areas with the greatest potential for commercialisation and job-creation.

o      The establishment of a one-stop-shop for businesses seeking to commercialise intellectual property deriving from publicly-funded research.

o      The establishment of a network of industry-led technology centres to encourage industry and academia to work together to develop and commercialise research ideas.

The government views science as being very much a core part of employment creation and retention. Events such as ESOF, has the potential to capture the publics’ imagination and encourage students to take up science-based careers as it is a showcase of world-class scientific endeavour. To celebrate the honour of hosting this prestigious international science event, the year-long Dublin City of Science Festival programme was developed. City of Science will involve 160 events and activities in Dublin and across the country which includes art exhibitions, theatre pieces, film festivals, treasure hunts, science buskers, interactive installations, experiments, public talks and workshops.

The strategy document Building Ireland’s Smart Economy: A Framework for Sustainable Economic Renewal recognises that science-based technology forms one of the cornerstones of the economy and that utilising the knowledge, skills and creativity of people is central to developing innovation and ideas. However, commentators in the industry and in education would have concerns over the standards attained in science and maths. The main problem cited is the low number of students studying maths and science at a higher level in second and third level education.

Concerns exist that relatively low student numbers in these subject areas will have a detrimental impact on efforts to attract research and development (R&D) and build a knowledge economy.

However, in terms of comparative International assessments, Ireland’s score in science was higher than the OECD average and similar to the OECD average for maths. Analysis shows that while lower achievers in maths and science in Ireland do well compared to other countries, there is vast room for improvement among the higher achievers.

A review of international best practice and expert recommendations has identified ways to increase participation levels in higher level examinations in maths and science. These include enhancing the skills of teachers, changing teaching methods, giving maths and science greater emphasis in the curriculum, and incentivising students to take up these subjects at second and third level. In particular, enhancing the skills and capacity of teachers is a key driver for enhancing performance. Some commentators argue that if high achievers in maths and science remain in education, this would create a virtuous circle in which high quality teachers will be able to provide enthusiasm and greater understanding to students who, in turn, will become high achievers with some also entering the teaching profession. There is a substantial amount of highly-skilled science and maths graduates choosing non-teaching careers – mainly for financial reasons; an issue the government might have to reflect on in the near future.

There are many ways to increase participation levels in higher level examinations in maths and science as identified by the Government’s Social Science and Politics Research Team. These include: giving maths and science greater emphasis in the curriculum; incentivising students to take up these subjects at second and third level; and, more particularly, changing teaching methods and enhancing the skills of teachers.

Yes, Ireland continues to rise up the international rankings in terms of the quality of our research and the current Government continues to demonstrate its’ committed to continuing investment in science, technology and innovation. Dublin, as the City of Science will be a great opportunity for Ireland to show the global scientific and business community that Ireland is a centre of scientific excellence. It will also go a long way in promoting this fulfilling and inspiring career area to our future graduates, who are essentially the key players in the government’s economic recovery plans, especially as potential future science graduates.

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An Educational Amalgamation

Qualifications and Quality Assurance Ireland (QQAI), is soon to replace FETAC, HETAC, NQAI and IUQB. Amalgamation of various state bodies seems to be a hallmark of the Government’s plan to improve productivity, relevancy and efficiency of government bodies and organisations; especially those whose job remit is to get Ireland back working and into education. We have already seen such streamlining and collaboration of services between the Department of Social Services and the Department of Education.

QQAI will become an all-encompassing umbrella organisation which will undertake the work of:

FETAC: The Further Education and Training Awards Council is currently the statutory awarding body for further education and training in Ireland. FETAC makes quality assured awards that are part of the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) from levels 1-6. Meeting learner needs is central to the work of FETAC.

HETAC: The Higher Education and Training Awards Council at present undertakes the validation of programmes; it also sets and monitors standards. HETAC also monitors the educational needs of the economy in order to contribute to national economic prosperity by ensuring the supply of people with the right qualifications at the right time.

NQAI: The National Qualifications Authority of Ireland undertook the role of overlooking and maintains a framework of qualifications for the development, recognition and award of qualifications based on standards of knowledge, skill or competence to be acquired by learners. They also ensure the promotion and facilitation of access, transfer and progression throughout the span of education and training provision.

IUQB: The Irish Universities Quality Board was established to support and promote a culture of quality in Irish higher education and independently evaluate the effectiveness of quality processes in Irish universities.  They maintain a Quality Reviews Catalogue for the seven Irish universities.

It is envisioned that this new single unified agency, QQAI, will assure the quality of qualifications and of learners’ experience of education and training at all levels in Ireland. In turn this will make it easier for employers and others to make sense of Irish qualifications, both nationally and within a global context – where people move freely from country to country. Learners and award holders will find it increasingly easier to get recognition for achievements both nationally and internationally. Essentially training and education will become an easily recognisable and interpreted qualification passport to work nationally and around the world.

With an ever expanding percentage of the population going on to some type of training or further/higher education, it is vital that certain standards are met in the delivery of education/training so that students are reaching and acquiring a certain standard of education and training. This move strengthens a focus on high quality learning experiences across all education and training provision nationally. The strength of current quality assurance systems will grow, opening up new opportunities for people to engage and succeed in learning.

QQAI will be responsible for building on Ireland’s reputation for quality in education and training; they will be strongly positioned to highlight and promote best practice throughout the educational and training system. The National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) will also be further developed by QQAI, which will in time lead to greater opportunities for learners. The currency of all awards on the Framework remains guaranteed. QQAI will evolve into an organisation serving learners and the public; building on the many achievements of the individual agencies and united by the National Framework of Qualifications.

This new developing agency will assist in a greater collaboration and commitment between all the education and training stakeholders, to each other and to each other’s awards and traditions. It will open the way for much greater cross fertilization of ideas and processes, with an inevitable enrichment in learning and teaching experiences.

In an era where Ireland is trying to sell itself as a smart and viable country for foreign investment; QQAI will play a vital role in ensuring that learners are qualified to a high standard in relevant and recognisable qualifications which in turn will allow us to compete successfully with other global economies in attracting investment. The alternative will a lack of foreign investment and hundreds of highly paid vacant positions not applicable to an Irish workforce because we don’t have the necessary qualified employees to fill them. Currently, many companies are importing workers/graduates to fill certain positions and yet we continue to export graduates and highly skilled people; the kernel of the problem is what the QQAI will have to address – ensuring courses delivered are a true reflection on future skills shortages and that graduates of such courses are adequately skilled and trained to fulfil the duties and tasks involved.

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School League Tables: A Subject of Contention

The Sunday Times recently published its annual School League Tables which tracks progression of students to third-level study from all 730 secondary schools in the Republic of Ireland.

The School League Tables continue to be a contentious issue – predominantly for one reason: schools are measured by a single criterion; a criterion which is only reflective of one aspect of any given school.

There is a certain cohort of parents who place a lot of weight on league tables in the decision making process when deciding on a school for their child. Opposing the league tables is an education system that loathes them; especially if you are one of those schools who does a plethora of work in getting disadvantaged students and students with special needs to the finishing line – the leaving cert. The School League Tables do not measure or rank such achievements. School League Tables highlight the schools that are successful in getting a high percentile of their students into third level but in doing so, they leave a huge amount of schools in the darkness of low rankings because of their league table standard of measurement.

In an article in the Irish Examiner, the Principal of Senior College Dun Laoghaire, Barry O’Callaghan expresses the concerns of many in the educational establishment that “League tables tell us nothing about those gone to apprenticeships, further education, agricultural, art, dance and other colleges; those happily gone to employment, those who cannot afford to go to university, those travelling the globe and those who have chosen to defer or terminate further academic progression.” He says such league tables are “placing huge pressure on teachers to teach exclusively to produce exam results; that instead of throwing a lifebelt to struggling schools is holding them underwater; is harming the teaching of sport, music and drama and is giving nervous breakdowns to top-performing schools lest they fall out of the top”.

There are parents and educators who are calling for a league table of schools that are not ranked solely on academic performance. They accept measuring the amount of students going on to higher education, could be one score attainable schools, should they wish to be graded in this way; but that other scores and rankings could come from the amount of  school activities, school awards, pupil-teacher ratio, IT classes and information from student surveys, for example.   These are the same parents who abhor the idea of their children being judged solely in terms of points, while their other qualities and achievements are ignored. Perhaps a solution to the inequities of The School League Tables is for schools to be free to provide alternative measurements or notes to qualify the results, or as suggested, for schools to opt out of being judged in a purely academic way.

Of course, in some cases, poor results can be traced to underperforming teachers (in the absence of special needs, disadvantaged students) and therefore league tables have the potential to flag problem schools and underachievement. There is a contingent of the media who continually campaign for incentives for good teaching with financial rewards. They base their argument on reports, including the recent OECD surveys of 15-year-olds in essential subjects of reading, maths and science since 2000, which reflected poorly on our educational output. Our ranking declined from 5th to 17th in reading skills and from 16th to 26th in maths.

Parents are entitled to the information provided by The School League tables, if this is the information they want. The solution from those denouncing league tables seems to be ‘no information’, which could lead to schools not being held accountable at all. There are many parents that will look to a school for a holistic balance in terms of the academic service and the personal service provided. There is the case that a school driven by points alone will neglect the other issues that a child faces on any given day: personal and social issues. Those schools perched at the top of the league tables necessarily won’t suit the needs of every child.

As human beings, we have the ability to possess up to nine difference intelligences; two of these intelligences explain why some people end up being more successful and happier than others. Inter and intrapersonal intelligences determine how well we get on with people and how we manage ourselves; both essential for personal and professional success. Neither of them are tested in our secondary school system.

The current points system and The School League Tables do exactly what they claim to do: they measure students and schools in terms of academic performance; one fact that it is worth keeping in mind when using these tables as a reference guide. Afterall, it is not a case of ‘are we intelligent?’ but ‘How we are intelligent’.

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Joan Burton’s Pathways to Work Plan

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton’s ‘Pathways to Work’ is an ambitious plan to expand services available to the unemployed through welfare offices. The plan is based on the philosophical view that a person’s first day of signing on could also be their ‘first step back to work’ according to the Minister.

With Ireland in the midst of a serious unemployment crisis, a crisis which gives rise to many negative economic and social consequences – for society as a whole and for individuals and their families; an ambitious plan is needed. She undertook to introduce a better approach to how the State engages with and supports the unemployed to get back into the workforce.

‘Pathways to Work’ sets out how the government intends to get people back to work and it is a key element of their strategy to get Ireland working again. Delivered alongside the measures in the Government’s Action Plan on Jobs to help create new employment opportunities, their aim is to avoid a repeat of the mistakes of the 1980s and 1990s when unemployment remained high even after economic recovery took hold.

The ‘Pathways to Work’ plan and approach will build on existing Government policies to ensure that as many new job opportunities as possible are filled by those on the Live Register. The government said: ‘Our challenge, in ‘Pathways to Work’, is to ensure that the creation of new jobs results in a reduction in unemployment – particularly long-term unemployment – so that individuals do not become permanently disenfranchised within our society.’

‘Pathways to Work’ has five strands:

o      More regular and on-going engagement with people who are unemployed

o      Greater targeting of activation places and opportunities

o      Incentivising the take-up of opportunities

o      Incentivising employers to provide more jobs for people who are unemployed

o      Reforming institutions to deliver better services to people who are unemployed.

The proposed major overhaul of the State’s social welfare offices started in May of this year in Dublin with the aim of completely transforming the function of the social welfare offices. The establishment of a single “one stop shop” public employment and benefits service in the National Employment and Entitlement Service (NEES) with clear targets for rolling out a new approach. Up to now social welfare offices have merely processed benefit payments for clients, but in the near future more than 700 Fas (now called SOLAS) officers will shortly be relocated to the State’s dole offices. This will allow those receiving unemployment benefits to collect their payments and simultaneously check out opportunities for retraining and jobs. The plans which are modelled on how welfare offices such as the Pole Emploi in France, the UK Jobcentre Plus offices and the Centre-link employment offices in Australia operate will see the current ‘Victorian’ layout of the dole offices being transformed to create spaces fit for one-to-one counselling and job coaching.

The overhaul is much needed and welcomed given recent reports and findings. Under the National Employment Activation Plan (NEAP), all dole claimants were meant to be referred automatically to FAS by the Department of Social Protection (DSP) when their claim reached the 13-week point on the Live Register. When the ERSI merged the customer Live Register data with the FAS events’ file, they found that a substantial proportion of qualifying claimants were not, in fact, referred. They found that one in five was still not interviewed by FAS almost five months after becoming unemployed.

Ireland is facing an unemployment crisis last seen in the deep recessions of the 1980s. There are now over 439,500 individuals on the Live Register, over 183,800 (42%) of whom are on the Live Register for a year or longer, with many previously employed in the construction sector. In the 1980s it took almost a decade for a return to economic growth to result in a reduced Live Register. Even in the early 1990s, during a period of double digit economic growth, the rate of unemployment fell by less than 2% from 14.7% to 12.8% between 1992 and 1995. Today, the average period spent on the Live Register is an unacceptable 21 months.

The Government is now determined that those who are unemployed will be provided with appropriate advice, support, education and training to take advantage of new job opportunities as the economy recovers. The recently published Action Plan on Jobs envisages the creation of a net new 100,000 jobs by 2016. The ‘Pathways to Work’ approach will enable as many of these new jobs as possible to be filled from the large numbers of people who are unemployed.

The government’s ambition is to develop a new approach to engagement with people who are unemployed which meets international best practice and which can be compared favourably with similar systems anywhere in the world. This includes measuring the performance of the ‘Pathways to Work’ approach as a whole, as well as of the effectiveness of individual engagement programmes. The government also plans to commission research and develop measurement methodologies to ensure that we have at our disposal the most appropriate and up-to-date metrics to ensure effective implementation and monitoring of progress under ‘Pathways to Work’.

An example of one of the ‘Pathways to Work’ for somebody recently made unemployed and in need of retraining:

o      A person who is unemployed can contact a NEES Call Centre or attend their local NEES office.

o      A NEES Community Service Representative reviews a person’s claim and uses the customer profiling tool to determine their likelihood of finding a job. They are then profiled as having/not having a high probability of finding a job. The CSR explains benefit entitlements to them and puts their benefits into payment.

o      In some cases NEES will insist on them attending a Group Information Seminar with other job seekers.

o      A follow-up one-to-one case management interview will follow after 3 months.

o      If they are still on the live register after three months, their NEES case worker will provide them with a personalised service focussing on job search and CV building. The case worker will also assess whether they are actively seeking work and they will be reminded of their obligations in this regard.

o      After six months they may be referred to an employment services specialist.

o      They may be requested to attend a specific training course or work experience programme.

‘Pathways to Work’ is an ambitious and well thought out plan. Is it fit for purpose? Time will tell whether it is strong enough to go head to head with its adversary – rising unemployment figures.

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Solas – A promising light in grim economic times

Nearly a year ago, Minister for Education & Skills, Ruairí Quinn, announced details of the new further education and training authority, SOLAS (Seirbhísí Oideachais Leanunaigh Agus Scileanna), which was to replace FÁS.

At the time of the launch, the new agency SOLAS and the government were criticised for wasting tax payers money on a launch that was perceived as: a ‘rebranding and remarketing exercise’ on an inefficient and ineffective FÁS, which was associated with nepotism and waste. However, one year on and the initial highlighted differences between the two bodies (in relation to functions and services) are now coming into fruition.  Services and duties previously carried out by FÁS will now be taken over on a 50/50 basis by both the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Education. This does entail a division of duties; yet a closer and more structured collaboration between the two departments, at the same time. Clearly, a step in the right direction, given the clientele they share; those in receipt of unemployment benefit/assistance and in need of training and education in order to re-enter the workforce.

SOLAS is built on a foundation of lessons that have been learnt from FÁS’s dubious past. Highly critical reports laid bare a story of a this government department who fell short of their job remit – to get people trained and back to work. One report contained evidence that job seekers were significantly more likely to find employment by avoiding FÁS. Another report, based on analysis carried out by the independent Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) raised serious questions about the effectiveness of the €360m a year Community Employment scheme. The ERSI also revealed that more than half of FÁS’s €1.2 billion national training fund was spent on training courses with a poor record of returning people to employment; not to mention the €50m spent on travel, hospitality and advertising.

The replacement agency, SOLAS, will now be entrusted by the State for training and employment with the hope that serious weaknesses and negligences will not be uncovered in future reports. The new state agency is addressing ERSI’s concerns, especially in relation to the impacts of job search assistance in a regime with minimal monitoring and sanctions – a worrying discovery by the ERSI in relation to a stimulus designed to help unemployed people re-enter the labour market. Under the National Employment Activation Plan (NEAP), all dole claimants were meant to be referred automatically to FAS by the Department of Social Protection (DSP) when their claim reached the 13-week point on the Live Register. The ERSI said: “however, when we merged the customer Live Register data with the FAS events’ file, we found that a substantial proportion of qualifying claimants were not, in fact, referred. The ESRI team took a sample of 7,468 people on the Live Register for 20 weeks, and concluded that “approximately 20pc were not referred to FAS by the DSP system”. In other words, one in five was still not interviewed by FAS almost five months after becoming unemployed. In addition, they learned that 36pc of people invited for interview failed to appear. Some may choose not to turn up, and they recommended financial sanctions need to be implemented in such cases.

It is SOLAS’s role to ensure that these worrying figures are addressed and reduced in the future. International research indicates early intervention is crucial to get people back into the workforce. Yet, in Ireland, nobody gets interviewed at all until they spend at least three months out of work.

However, now with The Department of Social Protection taking responsibility for programmes such as the community employment schemes and further education & training areas going to The Department of Education & Skills; there will be more specialisation in roles and duties and hopefully a more effective and timely response to the unemployed. VECs now play a bigger role in relation to the delivery of courses and this is welcome news given that Vocational Educational Committees have an outstanding reputation for the development and delivery of courses by highly skilled trainers and educators.

SOLAS, as opposed to FÁS’s lack of relevant course provision, will provide courses that relate to new industries where jobs will be created. With FÁS, there was a questionable surplus of construction workers trained. The agency turned out far too many construction workers as noted by the Minister himself at the launch a year ago. This was despite the fact that projected future skills needs shortage did not indicate a lack of skilled workers in this dying industry. Many question, including those qualified in the sector: why didn’t FÁS look at the amount of unemployed construction workers and direct them earlier into courses that would qualify them to fill the many jobs in the ‘green energy business’ which is a huge growth area. Afterall, new properties may not be built for some time, but existing ones need to be upgraded or made more energy efficient. The ESRI have recommended using market intelligence to ensure SOLAS becomes closely aligned with labour market needs, which is neither radical nor complex to do.

SOLAS does represent a new light on an old but unfortunately expanding problems and this is evident in their roles and responsibilities:

o      SOLAS will fulfil a role for the further education and training sector similar to that exercised by the Higher Education Authority for higher education institutions. It will draw on its own expertise and that of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs to help identify skills gaps, point to weaknesses and duplication in existing provision, and link courses more closely to both the needs of the individual and the labour market.

o      SOLAS will ensure that further education and training programmes provide jobseekers and other learners with the new skills needed for the new jobs in Ireland’s 21st century labour market, as outlined in the National Skills Strategy.

o      SOLAS will also ensure that there is a shift away from skills provision for traditional occupations like construction which have seen a huge fall in employment, and it will have a greater focus on training and education programmes which prepare jobseekers and other learners for occupations in growth areas like the services, ICT, medical devices, food and biopharmaceutical sectors.

o      SOLAS will champion a greater emphasis on generic, transferable skills including people-related skills, thinking and problem-solving skills and digital literacy skills. SOLAS will be underpinned by stronger quality assurance, occupational standards, international benchmarks and course content reviews.

It seems that the government have identified the obvious: the key to reducing unemployment is via education, relevant up-skilling, or retraining those unemployed in areas with existing or future skills shortage as opposed to continuing to train the unemployed for industries that had all the hallmarks of being overly supplied.

Aontas, the National Adult Learning Organisation recently responded to SOLAS and what they would like from this new government agency: ‘While further education and training is essential in assisting people to move into employment, learning also has a role beyond the labour market and a broad range of course options which support these benefits should be available to learners. Research on the benefits of adult learning commissioned by AONTAS in 2011 has identified outcomes such as better physical and mental health, increased civic engagement (e.g. volunteering) as well as personal and community development. SOLAS must commit to providing a variety of courses which cater to learners at all levels and ages, and strike the right balance between the needs of the labour market, the needs of communities and the needs of individuals.’ AONTAS are hoping for a more holistic state agency. Afterall, unemployment affects not just the unemployed – both mentally and physically; it affects families and communities.

The unemployment rate in Ireland was last reported at 14.3% in April of 2012 – an all-time high. Therefore, both Irish and European eyes will be firmly on SOLAS, to see if they can fulfil the expectations assigned to them. The vision and hope is that they in time will become as efficient and successful as the Higher Education Authority. The unemployed need courses that make them employable, and with future foreign investment, it is hoped that skilled workers/graduates will not have to be imported to fill roles for companies like Apple, PayPal, eBay, Facebook and Google. The alternative is a return to a time when training programmes offered little chance of future employment and where the unemployed went from one course to the other; often just to keep their benefits or to pass time.

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Skills Shortages, Where to Look

Despite the on-going economic stagnation – there are employment opportunities and certain skills shortages in Ireland. The language associated with austerity and the downturn often cloud the good news stories that tell us of job prospects; growing direct foreign investment and predicted future economic growth. The economy actually did return to growth last year – for the first time in nearly four years. Whilst there continues to be job losses and some would even go as far as to say a haemorrhage; there also is a job growth – a growth associated with certain sectors and industries. Therefore, if one was to remove the spotlight from job losses to job opportunities – things might look more optimistic for the future. Lamenting job losses and lack of job prospects in certain industries is futile and wastes energy; energy needed for new reactions to a changing employment market.

While obvious, the key to finding jobs is by searching in all the right places and acquiring skills and qualifications that are relevant to those places/companies/sectors. Yes, interest in a particular job is important for numerous reasons like productivity and mental health; but within any given sector there are many diverse positions, that might suit both your interests and your skills. Also, lack of skills for a position of interest can be worked on via up-skilling or re-training from the numerous trainers out there – both private and public.

Growing direct foreign investment from multinationals like Apple, along with a number of expansions announced by high-profile companies, guarantees job vacancies now and in the future. Currently, some companies are looking outside of Ireland to fill high-profile positions because there are simply not enough qualified people here in Ireland. A lot of these positions are in specialised sectors but with existing and predicted skills shortages in these sectors – paying attention is advised.

The Expert Group on ‘Future Skills Needs’ recently announced that The Irish job market has a demand for people with work experience, third-level qualifications and/or foreign-language. Their most recent report, which outlines the areas where job vacancies arose during 2011, also highlights vacancies in occupations that are proving difficult to fill with suitably qualified and/or experienced staff, which includes: ICT professionals, financial experts, engineering experts and healthcare professionals.  The most-advertised positions were in sales and ICT, and third-level qualifications were a prerequisite. Foreign languages, particularly German and Nordic languages, continued to be in demand.

Those in the business of recruitment say that current skills shortage and predicted skills shortage can be found in the following industries: technology, medical device manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, engineering, financial services, banking, accountancy and sales/customer services.

The government is addressing the skills shortages by placing emphasise on people being up-skilled or retrained in certain areas. Springboard is one example of an initiative that provides 6,000 funded part-time placements on 200 courses nationwide for unemployed people looking for work. The Government led ICT Action Plan announced a doubling of third-level education places until 2018. There are also up-skilling and re-skilling opportunities for job seekers through the ICT skills conversion programme.

As we all know; the potential for job growth coming from cloud computing is well-documented. Ensuring that there is a properly skilled workforce there to benefit from that is the latest challenge for industry and policy leaders. With Microsoft, IBM, Amazon and many others basing cloud centres in Ireland, the country has done well in its attempts to become a global force in the area. However, with many ICT companies already uneasy about the lack of skilled talent in Ireland and many jobs already going unfilled; these up-skilling courses might address this need.

In terms of what jobs have the biggest earning power; IT is the career that carries the enviable salary. In fact employees in IT, sales, engineering and accounting/finance are named as Ireland’s biggest earners. A recent survey by irishjobs.ie revealed that over a quarter of IT workers are earning at least 60,000 euros or over and those earning above 60,000 per annum are mainly found in this sector.

The Future Skills Needed reports and other related data gives those who are looking at education/training options or making career choices a view of what employers are looking for. It also provides insights for career guidance professionals, education/training providers and policy makers. The government’s job is to try and encourage people to avail of the opportunities for up- skilling and skills conversion that are available and also to counteract the recent controversial ERSI report that went as far as to say that 44% of working families with children were better off on the dole. As a job hunter – your job is to avail of all the opportunities and information available to you, to ensure you are ‘Job-Ready’ and aware of where the jobs actually are.

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Give Your Summer a Multi-Cultural Twist

With students from Peru, Brazil, Spain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Hungary, and even Ireland trying out their first cúpla focal with Conradh na Gaeilge Irish classes last term, you can give your summer a multicultural twist by signing up to their new term of intensive courses this July and August on www.cnag.ie.

Conradh na Gaeilge runs Irish courses in Dublin to cater for all levels of adult learners every summer: Complete Beginners, Bunrang, Meánrang, and higher level Ardrang inclusive. The 3-hour classes will be held at Conradh na Gaeilge’s head offices in the city centre at 6 Harcourt Street, Dublin 2, two evenings a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6.30 – 9.30pm), from 10 – 26 July and from 7 – 23 August 2012.

Brenda Ní Ghairbhí, Development and Office Executive with Conradh na Gaeilge says: “People from different countries and backgrounds come to learn Irish with Conradh na Gaeilge, for both personal and professional reasons, because they know we offer the best value and highest quality of classes in the capital.”

Conradh na Gaeilge is renowned for its Irish-language classes for adults, and for the reasonable prices of its courses, which it has lowered again this year to make Irish as accessible as possible to everyone; a 3-week course now costs only €160, or only €140 if you are a past pupil, a student, an OAP or unemployed. You can register online at www.cnag.ie today, or contact Conradh na Gaeilge directly at eolas@cnag.ie / +353 (0)1 4757401 for more information and to book your place.

Ní Ghairbhí continues: “In the current economic climate, it is imperative to us that Conradh na Gaeilge customers get the value for money they deserve on our intensive Irish courses this summer. Not only are there fantastic discounts to be had on all courses, but the Conradh’s classes are a great opportunity for you to add to the list of skills on your CV, especially considering the continuing upsurge in positions where Irish is needed, in the wake of the Official Languages Act and Irish becoming an official working language in Europe.”

Not only do public bodies at home and abroad in the European Union have Irish-language responsibilities, but international private sector businesses such as Microsoft, Samsung, Accenture, and even Facebook are looking to the Irish language to give them a competitive advantage in Ireland, so there has never been a better time to brush up on your Irish, or start learning it from scratch, with Conradh na Gaeilge’s Dublin classes.

Conradh na Gaeilge courses also comply with Teastas Eorpach na Gaeilge (TEG) syllabi and students have the opportunity to take exams, run by NUI Maynooth, to gain an internationally-recognised European qualification in Irish based on class material and complemented by Irish-language events run throughout the term.

So whether you’re Irish or Italian, whether you’re in Dublin by chance or by design, Conradh na Gaeilge Irish courses offer everyone the chance to derive both benefit and enjoyment from the language this summer!

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New Student Grant System

Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn recently announced the introduction of a centralised online system for dealing with student grants. Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) is expected to save the exchequer an estimated €5 million and help accelerate grant applications for those entering third level education in the next academic year. This welcome initiative will replace the previous system, which saw grant applicants apply to any one of the 66 grant awarding authorities – their local authority or Vocational Education Committees for grants.

According to Mr Quinn, the introduction of SUSI ensures that students will no longer have to wait months for their first cheques and face ‘undue hardship as a result’. These are encouraging words for students who often have to give up a college place in the face of financial difficulties at home or lack of advance loans and finances available to them from banks as they await their grant cheque.

Students will no-longer have to wait for their grant payments to come through, depending on which VEC or local authority they were with. This new innovative online system which is co-ordinated and ran by City of Dublin VEC (CDVEC) will ensure that students whose grant applications have been approved will get monthly electronic transfers into their bank accounts during the academic year.

It is important to remember that SUSI will only be dealing with new applications in its first year of operation; renewal applications for students who already get a grant for their current courses will continue to be dealt with by the existing 66 grant-awarding authorities until they finish their courses.

The student grant is the main source of financial help available from the Irish State for students in full-time Post Leaving Certificate Courses (PLCs) and full-time higher education undergraduate courses. Support is available to eligible students in most colleges in Ireland as well as eligible Irish students in many colleges in Northern Ireland, the UK and other EU States. For eligible students, the grant is there to help with the various costs of participating in further or higher education. Students on part-time courses, access or foundation courses (in higher education institutions) and short courses are not eligible to apply for a student grant.

Every year there are many students who fail to get a student grant as a result of missing the deadline dates in place. This new online application system is now live and if you think you are eligible for the student grant, you should apply for it as soon as possible. You do not have to wait until you receive an offer of a place or enrol in college to pursue with your application. As with the traditional grant system; family and personal income will be a key factor in deciding whether individuals are eligible for a grant.

Many students solely depend on the Student Grant; which is not always adequate for them to survive whilst going to college. Depending on the city your college is situated in; attending college can be very expensive and more so, if you are living in the capital. There is support in place to assist students who have no other financial assistance apart from the grant and find themselves struggling. The Student Assistance Fund provides financial assistance for full-time higher education students who are experiencing financial difficulties whilst attending college. Students can apply for Student Assistance to help them with either temporary or on-going financial difficulties. The Student Assistance Fund provides a further source of funding for higher education students in addition to the Student Grant.

Each year, the State allocates a certain amount of Student Assistance funding to all publicly funded higher education colleges based on the size of the college’s full-time student population. Students in need of financial support can then make application in the college for assistance under the Fund. The Student Assistance Fund is not available in further education/PLC colleges. There are strict conditions in place to determine if you are eligible to apply for this assistance fund to ensure that the students most in need avail of it.

There are many ways to survive college financially; budgeting being an obvious one. Apart from putting in place controls to ensure you do not fall short financially; there are many supports like college counsellors and the students union in place to assist and support you if you reach financial crisis. It is important to avail of these supports.

Student Universal Support Ireland is one much welcomed government initiative that will go a long way to alleviate stress that is often caused by the wait for a grant cheque.

 

*New students have until 21 August to apply online for a grant. They can also check out the SUSI support page on Facebook. SUSI has a Nationwide Mentoring Network in place to assist applicants who might have access issues using the online system.  You should contact the SUSI Support Desk for additional information on this network.

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