Brief for Minister for Education and Skills

Business priorities and solutions



1.      
Prepare young people for life beyond the classroom


Why?

Education systems today need to prepare young people to deal with more rapid change than ever before, seek jobs that have not yet been created, use technologies that have not yet been invented and solve problems that cannot be foreseen. In order to achieve this, it is important to prepare them for life beyond the classroom.

How? The Minister should:

  • implement reform of both Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate curriculums in order to move away from an undue emphasis on rote learning, towards a more holistic education experience
  • promote stronger entrepreneurial skills among young people by embedding key aspects such as critical thinking, intelligent risk-taking and collaboration across the curriculum from primary to higher education
  • ensure that the recommendations of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education Group are fully implemented
  • reform career guidance services by providing schools with the resources to contract in specialist providers
  • publish the Modern Languages Strategy and establish a Languages Advisory Board to modernise and integrate language teaching in primary, post-primary, further and higher education.

 

2.      
Ensure Ireland has a sustainable funding model to underpin a world class further and higher education system


Why?

Since their introduction over a decade ago, student fees have been the subject of a highly politicised debate. The most persuasive argument for introducing cost-sharing between the State and the individual is the absolute need for additional revenue for third level education. A significant increase in third level students has led to critical budgetary pressures which are not easily resolved in light of competing priorities for the use of public funds.

How? The Minister should:

  • introduce an effective student fees and income-contingent loan system to underpin the sustainability of a high-quality higher education system
  • reverse the damaging cuts to the higher education budget
  • modify student funding in a way that does not distinguish between full and part-time students
  • enable higher education institutions to have greater flexibility and autonomy on resource allocations so that they can attract and retain world-class talent
  • ensure that technological universities are established so that they can work with businesses to bring the learning experience closer to the world of work
  • develop a series of specific proposals to make the continuum of tertiary provision, between higher and further education, more systematic.

 

3.       Improve employability skills in further and higher education


Why?

Education institutions are a vital public good, making a crucial contribution to the intellectual, cultural, social and economic well-being of the country. However, we should not view the requirement for workplace skills and the cultivation of the intellect as some zero sum game. There is an onus on education institutions to provide their students with an understanding of their knowledge, skills and attributes in terms of the value that they can bring to prospective employers. This is particularly important for graduates from less vocational disciplines.

How? The Minister should:

  • ensure that more state funding is provided for further and higher education programmes with demonstrable links to employment
  • implement the Action Plan to Expand Apprenticeship and Traineeship in Ireland (2016-2020)
  • ensure that further education and training providers and higher education institutions deliver on the National Skills Strategy 2025 recommendation to provide meaningful employability statements for disciplines
  • make employer engagement a key metric in the higher education performance compacts and further education and training service plans.

 

4.       Reform the National Training Fund and improve upskilling/lifelong learning


Why?

Ireland’s lifelong learning rate, at just over 7%, is less than half the benchmark set by the EU under its Education and Training Framework (ET 2020), that aims to have 15% of adults aged 25-64 engaging in lifelong learning by 2020. While this under-performance cannot be totally attributed to lack of resources, it raises serious issues around the governance and use of the National Training Fund (NTF), the State’s main financial vehicle for upskilling.

How? The Minister should:

  • undertake a detailed cost-benefit analysis of all programmes supported by the NTF. NTF-supported programmes which are not meeting explicit employer-defined upskilling should be discontinued or funded from alternative exchequer sources
  • introduce governance structures to the NTF in which employers have a direct input to decisions on training priorities and funding allocation. At least 50% of its allocation should be directed toward in-company training programmes (such as those supported through Skillnets) and apprenticeships
  • implement major reorientation of the NTF to demand-driven training schemes. These could include a new cost reimbursement scheme which would enable employers to choose suitable training services from individual accredited education and training providers.

 

5.       Address the education policy implementation deficit


Why?

International experience suggests that many education reforms fail to deliver because they have little effect on what happens inside the classroom or lecture hall. Education is also prone to policy overload which happens when governments fall into the trap of developing plans that are too complex, too vague, and contain too many priorities. Policy overload also results in a lack of focus, fragmented priorities, and a sense of an endless stream of ad hoc initiatives. Successful reform plans are designed as much for the implementers—that is, the teachers, principals and higher education leaders—as they are for the planners themselves.

How? The Minister should:

  • continue engaging in the Action Plan for Education (2016-2020) process, where actions are monitored against published timelines, annual plan updates and responsibility for actions are clearly assigned.

 

6.       Use administrative data to produce meaningful and timely information on education outcomes


Why?

Meaningful and timely data on education and skills should accurately assess needs and demands in an agile way, while also examining the impact of any training provision in an economic context. The Higher Education Authority’s Graduate First Destination Survey, which has been running since 1982, provides useful information on first occupations of graduates, nine months after graduation. However, it has limited coverage of Higher Education Institutions and, more critically, only capture a short period of time. Employer satisfaction and student engagement surveys can suffer from unsatisfactory response rates (particularly amongst employers who are subjected to large numbers of surveys) and subjectivity. The major gap in skills measurement is in the use of administrative systems and effective utilisation of data held by public bodies.

How? The Minister should:

  • ensure that citizens’ education, employment and earnings data are linked with education and training outcomes, through coordination with relevant government departments and agencies.

 


About Ibec

Ibec is Ireland's largest and most influential business representative. We proudly speak on behalf of 7,500 Irish businesses; home grown, multinational, big and small, spanning every sector of the economy and employing 70% of the private sector workforce in Ireland. Together with our 40+ trade associations, we lobby government and policy makers nationally and internationally to maintain a positive climate for business and drive economic growth. Our policy is shaped by our members through the work of our board, national council, policy committees and trade associations.  We regularly produce market leading industry and business events, positions on issues impacting business, economic research, forecasts and analysis. We also provide a wide range of professional services and management training to members on all aspects of human resource management, occupational health and safety, employee relations and employment law.  With 200 staff in 6 offices around Ireland as well as an office in Brussels and connections in the U.K. and Washington, Ibec communicates the Irish business voice to key stakeholders at home and abroad.

 

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