Greater share of €2m fund for part-time learners

Colleges that cater for more part-time and online learners have been rewarded with a greater share of a €2m fund in support of lifelong learning.

University College Dublin is to receive more than €250,000, the largest amount being paid out for lifelong learning initiatives through the Higher Education Authority. It has determined the allocations to each of 24 third-level colleges based on the number of flexible learners on their courses last year. This can include those who are taking part in part-time courses, or whose courses are delivered online or through distance education.

It might be expected based on student populations that UCD would get the biggest figure, as it is the largest college in the country.

But its funding is significantly ahead of the next-highest amounts, which are not necessarily proportionate to their student populations.

Dublin Institute of Technology, which has one of the largest enrolment figures, has received around €179,500. This is almost exactly the same as the smaller NUI Galway, which is followed closely by similar-sized Trinity College Dublin which gets €1,000 less.

The minister of state for higher education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, said the funding allocations that she will announce today reward those institutions that have made progress in the important policy area of increasing lifelong learning opportunities.

“It also signals that this is an area that will be prioritised by my department in the future,” she said.

This will be reflected in the outcome of a review she expects to publish in January, which considered how best to decide overall funding allocations to publicly-funded third-level colleges.

The €2m being provided under today’s announcement is part of an additional €60m being given to the sector in 2018.

It will support progress towards a target set in the 2015-2019 national plan for equity of access to higher education, which seeks to have 22% of students in part-time or other flexible learning provision. By raising the proportion from the 19% at the time the target was set, around 11,000 extra students availing of such opportunities was envisaged.

“This funding will encourage our higher education institutions to continue to be innovative and supportive in targeting prospective students for whom funding, work or family commitments can often be barriers to study,” said Ms Mitchell O’Connor. “By widening access in this way, funding will impact positively on individuals, their families, as well as our economy and wider society.”

Other colleges that have fared well based on their numbers of flexible learners are Institute of Technology Carlow, which is to receive almost €156,000 and Dublin City University (€135,588). These both exceed that going to the larger University College Cork, whose €121,800 allocation is just over €10,000 more than next-best but much smaller Cork Institute of Technology.

Maynooth University is to receive €87,251, over €20,000 more than the lowest university allocation to University of Limerick. Its €63,726 allocation is lower than three more institutes of technology getting significant additional investment for flexible learning, in Tallaght (€108,151), Sligo (€86,283) and Blanchardstown (€64,433).

Another €62,422 is going to Waterford Institute of Technology), with reducing amounts going to the remaining third-level colleges.

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