Extra investment may cut high college drop-out rate

Extra investment to cater for more students in the further education sector could help reduce the problem of high college drop-out rates, a leading education figure has said.

Michael Moriarty, general secretary of Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI), said a key factor in the 16% drop-out rate among first-year third-level students is that many of them are in the wrong courses or attending the wrong institutions.

ETBI represents the 16 ETBs, who run post-Leaving Certificate (PLC), further education courses, and training schemes for school leavers, as well as managing nearly 300 second-level schools.

But, Mr Moriarty said, the attractiveness and capacity of the further education and training (FET) sector need to be improved. “We’ve been arguing for five years for a capital budget for the sector, not just to build or renovate colleges, but to fit them out with equipment to train people for jobs of today and the future,” he said.

“If you’re going to have a world-class further education sector, it makes no sense to have no capital budget and no added investment,” said Mr Moriarty, who is also president of the European Federation of Education Employers.

He said funding cuts and Government-imposed limits on PLC places are restricting their ability to cater for more students who are now attending and completing second-level education.

From nearly 39,000 students on PLC courses in 2011, numbers fell below 32,500 in the last college year.

Yet at the same time, third-level colleges have continued to increase intake, as they receive extra direct funding in the form of tuition fees from the Government for each new entrant.

“We’ve traditionally taken in more people than we get funding for. But with the cutbacks to ETBs we can’t do that anymore. The PLC sector is becoming a victim of the resourcing trends and cuts that have been going on for a number of years,” Mr Moriarty said.

He will address the issues, and others affecting the work and responsibilities of ETBs, their schools, colleges and other services at the ETBI annual conference which takes place in Killarney today and tomorrow.

Because they are funded and staffed in the same way as second-level, the colleges offering PLC courses have had to drop programmes or reduce places in recent years.

Yet, Mr Moriarty said, they are the perfect alternative to third-level for the thousands of people who drop out of universities or institutes of technology.

“There’s something wrong when 16% fail to progress to second-year at third-level, largely because they are in the wrong place or on the wrong courses,” he said.

“We have a fixation on transferring to third-level which isn’t there in many other countries, but they have a well-developed FET sector and hundreds of apprenticeship options, whereas we have 25 although we are now developing more,” he said.

Some of the issues of concern to the sector will be aired directly to Education Minister Richard Bruton when he attends the ETBI conference tomorrow.

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