Thursday, 17 April 1997
Dáil Éireann Debate
Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach): Together with my colleague, the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy R. Bruton, I recently announced the Government's action plan of skills to ensure an ongoing supply of suitably qualified young people. The critical skills currently identified are for graduates in computer science, technicians and students with a proficiency in foreign languages.
In the computer science area the following measures have been taken: I have allocated 1,800 places to the computer science area under the joint public-private sector £60 million capital initiative. This represents almost 30 per cent of the total of 6,200 places under the initiative. The other places under the initiative are for agreed areas of priority manpower needs, for example, in science, engineering, mathematics and business studies. I have also increased the number of places on one year post-graduate programmes in computer applications open to those with suitable primary degrees. The output in 1997 from this one year programme, including those under the advanced technical skills programme, will be over 800. It is planned to increase this output to 1,250 in 1998. Numbers can be increased further in subsequent years to the extent necessary.
In the present academic year I have also approved a range of new courses in the Dublin Institute of Technology-RTC sector in computing and associated disciplines, software engineering and multi-media applications development. The Government has also recently approved the establishment of a steering committee, chaired by the chairman of the Higher Education Authority, to begin a bidding and negotiation process with educational and training institutions. The aim of the committee is to identify the most cost effective way of providing 1,000 additional software graduates and 750 technicians per annum.
The steering committee has placed advertisements seeking an indication of interest from eligible institutions and has also had a specification prepared in relation to the types of graduates required. It will shortly issue this specification to eligible institutions with a request for proposals.
My Department, together with the Departments of Finance and Enterprise and Employment, is examining opportunities for increased utilisation of the existing training and education infrastructure to generate additional software places.
In relation to foreign language training, the action plan includes: the provision of 750 extra places on post-leaving certificate courses; the provision  of 250 extra places in regional technical college courses with language content; and the placement abroad of 1,000 students each year.
My Department has introduced training courses at post-leaving certificate level which are designed to develop multi-lingual telemarketing skills. This programme will be expanded substantially in 1997-8, with appropriate investment in equipment and the additional costs of providing a lengthy placement abroad for participants as part of the programme. A working group has been established to co-ordinate the initiative, and consultancy studies have been commissioned by Forfas, the IDA and my Department to inform the developments in this area. A major campaign to promote awareness of the training and employment opportunities in this area is being finalised.
Regional fora, comprising FÁS, third level colleges and industry, are being established to design innovative ways of meeting the needs of local industry, particularly for technicians in the electronics industry.
Provision has been included in this year's Finance Bill, which is currently before the House, to allow tax relief on gifts of money made to certain third level institutions which are used for the purposes of approved projects, including the provision of facilities designed to increase student numbers in areas of skills needs.
These particular initiatives are in addition to the ongoing work undertaken by the institutions, the Higher Education Authority and my Department to ensure that our education system equips society with the particular skills and qualities necessary for economic growth and prosperity.
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