Employers to get say in training fund use

Employers are to be given a greater say in the use of the National Training Fund (NTF) which the Government wants them to contribute more to, Education Minister Richard Bruton will announce today.

Although a review of the NTF which he is establishing is unlikely to be completed before Budget 2018 in October, the minister is already committing to businesses having a greater input into how it is spent.

The budget is expected to see the amount employers pay into the fund increase on a phased basis over the next three years, under proposals Mr Bruton and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe put forward earlier this year.

In response to the proposals, which would see the amount paid by businesses increase from 0.7% of employees’ salaries to 1% by 2020, a number of submissions suggested a need for greater transparency.

The NTF levy is incorporated into employers’ PRSI, but many groups believe it needs to be put to better use, particularly if the amount from business is to be raised.

The review which Mr Bruton is announcing today, along with his new minister of state Mary Mitchell O’Connor who has responsibility for higher education, is not likely to be finalised before the budget.

But any increased employer NTF levy is expected to form part of a wider policy reform in relation to higher education funding, which Mr Bruton has promised.

This year’s budget has provided the first increase in public investment in third-level for several years, and the Government also wants to see the amount which employers contribute to the sector and to further education to rise due to the benefits they gain from a highly-qualified workforce.

But greater political uncertainty surrounds the third possible increased contribution, which could come from students paying more for their degrees.

A Labour Party motion seeking Government commitment not to introduce a loan scheme, requiring students to pay back increased fees when they reach a certain income level, was rejected in the Seanad on Wednesday night.

Mr Bruton has repeatedly said he wants to secure political consensus on the mix of funding sources from among those proposed by the Cassells report on higher education spending a year ago.

But after several months of hearings with experts and lobby groups, the Oireachtas Education Committee is considered highly unlikely to reach agreement, particularly with a strong lobby from student and trade unions against any increased fees or loans scheme.

The Cassells report estimates the higher education sector alone needs an extra €600m a year by 2021 to maintain quality and cope with increasing student numbers, rising to €1bn extra by 2030.

The minister said the Government is close to making final decisions on the introduction of an exchequer-employer investment mechanism, after considering the outcome of consultations to date on the proposed NTF levy increase which could increase the fund by about €170m a year.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said it is a very positive step forward that a breakdown will be provided in future of NTF spending, evidence of engagement with employers, and the impact of programmes being funded.


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