Entry rules for free courses to be eased

STRICT rules on eligibility for free college courses under the Government’s jobs initiative are to be eased as they have blocked hundreds of unemployed people from qualifying.

Less than half of the 5,900 places in the Springboard scheme to up-skill jobseekers have so far been filled, and only 5,500 people have applied so far.

Around 2,700 people have accepted a course and nearly 3,000 applications are still being processed, including multiple applications from thousands of those anxious to improve their job prospects with new qualifications.

But the Higher Education Authority (HEA), which is operating the scheme, has raised concerns with the Department of Education that some unemployed people are being ruled out simply because they have not been out of work long enough.

The Irish Examiner has learned that Education Minister Mr Quinn will announce changes today to the requirement that applicants must be unemployed for at least six months, and either receiving a jobseekers or single-parent welfare payment, or signing for social insurance contribution credits.

Other factors may also be ruling some applicants out, such as not having previous qualifications or work experience in a related field. But a significant number of courses have not filled yet simply because potential students are not unemployed long enough to qualify, which is believed to have turned thousands more off from even applying.

“We have urged greater flexibility concerning the qualification period so that the most suitable candidates wouldn’t be ineligible or have to wait until next year,” a HEA spokesperson said. The closing date has already passed for many of the 200-plus Springboard courses but some of the 35 colleges have extended the deadline to ensure all places are taken up.

The details emerge after criticisms already this week about the JobBridge internship programme which was also part of the Government’s jobs initiative announced in May, in which almost 500 of the 825 places already taken were by people already on a previous Government work placement programme.

The criticisms focused on the fact that time spent on Fás or other training schemes can not be counted towards the minimum three months that applicants must have been getting jobseekers’ payments or signing for social insurance contribution credits in the previous six months.

The Department of Social Protection said it will be reviewing the internship scheme and its eligibility criteria on an ongoing basis in response to feedback.

Springboard programmes range from certificate courses to masters degrees.

*All Springboard courses can be viewed by visiting www.bluebrick.ie.


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