Third Level Places.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 200 No. 7

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Senator Dominic Hannigan: Information on Dominic Hannigan  Zoom on Dominic Hannigan  I welcome the Minister of State. He will be aware of the reports in the newspapers of late of the increase of 10% in the number of applications to the CAO. This increase is also felt in other sectors of higher education. Applications for post leaving certificate courses have also increased.

I spent Friday morning last with Deputy Wallace in the College of Further Education in Dunboyne in County Meath. That college has been a huge success. It was set up a number of years ago as part of St. Peter’s community college, the local secondary school, and it has seen its numbers grow significantly. Already this year it is seeing an increase in applications of 15% on this time last year. That is really good news and it is great to see people going to the college. It is proof that the college is producing students and graduates of calibre, but the problem is a cap is in place.

The Minister of State may remember that approximately two and a half years ago of an October evening he and I spoke on this issue in the House. At that stage I spoke about the McIvor report into PLCs and I also raised the subject of lifting the cap. I am glad to say that perhaps as a result of submissions such as mine and that of Deputy Wallace, who has also been making the case for Dunboyne, the Minister of State managed to lift the cap. When we spoke on the previous occasion, the cap was approximately one student per 1,000 of population in Meath compared with a national average of one student per 250 of population. I am pleased we have now got to the point where the cap is one student per 500 of population in Meath, but it is still twice the national average. We need to see an increase in, and possibly a doubling of, the cap just to get up to the national average.

The benefits of doing this are clear to see for anybody who goes to these colleges. I have been lucky enough to be invited to the graduation night at the Dunboyne College of Further Education for a number of years. Year on year one sees more people graduating, the sense of self-worth of these graduates, and their subsequent entry into the jobs market.

People would join these courses if space were available. I heard of one student on a course in Dunboyne saying that if space were available, he could fill a bus with young people from houses along his estate who currently work part-time on a Saturday, who sit at home from Monday to Friday playing with Play Stations and with little else to do, and who would jump at the opportunity to be able to do a post leaving certificate course. However, Dunboyne has this cap which we would like to see lifted and I am asking the Minister of State to make a statement on it.

Another consequence of lifting the cap would be that it would provide certainty to the college for future expansion. It would mean it could try to find a site upon which to base itself and expand to cater for the number of students who wish to attend. I ask the Minister of State to make a statement on increasing the cap at Dunboyne College of Further Education.

Deputy Seán Haughey: Information on Seán Haughey  Zoom on Seán Haughey  I thank the Senator for raising this issue. At the outset, I want to clarify for the House that Dunboyne College of Further Education is an approved provider of post leaving certificate, PLC, courses and is operated by County Meath Vocational Education Committee.

The PLC programme is a self-contained whole-time learning experience designed to provide successful participants with specific vocational skills to enhance their prospects of securing [454]lasting, full-time employment or to progress to other studies. It caters for those who have completed senior cycle education and require further vocational education and training as well as adults who may not have completed the senior cycle but who are returning to education and who have skills and competencies which enable them to undertake the courses. PLC courses are generally of one or two years’ duration and are at levels 5 and 6 on the national framework of qualifications. There are 2,000 different courses available in more than 1,000 disciplines, from business and secretarial skills to art, crafts and design, from child care and community care to equestrian studies and a range of other disciplines in between. As well as this, through the higher education links scheme, PLC courses also provide an alternative route to higher education in the institutes of technology and, in 2005, some institutes and other higher education institutions introduced a pilot admissions criteria and scoring system for FETAC level 5 certificate and level 6 advanced certificate applicants.

There are 31,688 PLC places available nationwide, including an additional 1,500 places allocated following the April 2009 budget. This provision is being maintained for 2010-11. PLC courses are delivered by a nationwide network of almost 200 schools and colleges in the vocational, secondary, community and comprehensive school sector. The bulk of provision is in vocational colleges operated by the VECs. My Department allocates PLC places to VECs and other providers every year following an application process. For VECs, the further distribution of places to individual colleges is a matter for each VEC.

In County Meath VEC, there are three approved PLC providers: the College of Further Education, Dunboyne, St. Oliver’s post-primary school, Oldcastle, and Beaufort College, Navan. The number of PLC places allocated to County Meath VEC has more than doubled in the past five years, from 136 in 2004-05 to 290 for the current 2009-10 academic year, including an additional 20 places allocated in this academic year. There are also two approved PLC providers in County Meath outside the VEC sector, namely, Boyne community school, Trim, which has an allocation of 22 places and Athboy community school which has an allocation of 16 PLC places. This means there are almost 330 PLC places in County Meath.

The overall number of approved PLC places is set at its current level of 31,688 because there is a continuing requirement to plan and control numbers and to manage expenditure within the context of overall educational policy and provision. Any future increases would have to take account of the present and prospective economic and budgetary context and related financial constraints. I thank the Senator for raising this issue and providing me with an opportunity to outline this Government’s commitment to the post leaving certificate programme.

Senator Dominic Hannigan: Information on Dominic Hannigan  Zoom on Dominic Hannigan  I wish to put one very short supplementary question. I thank the Minister of State for this information. It clearly shows that while one out of every 25 people in the country is from County Meath, we only get one out of every 100 places on a post leaving certificate course. Does the Minister of State believe this imbalance is fair?

Deputy Seán Haughey: Information on Seán Haughey  Zoom on Seán Haughey  I recognise that County Meath is a rapidly developing area with significant growth in population and this would be taken into account when these issues are considered.

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