Further education was for many years the “poor relation” of education. There were many different, often poorly defined, awards offered by a multitude of bodies, both ad-hoc and statutory. But that has changed and now there are many different types of further education awards and qualifications.
Further education has expanded immensely in recent years helped by theFurther Education Council, and because of this the type and range of these awards have been formalized to restore confidence. There are two separate schemes enabling progression for holders of FETAC awards to Universities and Institutes of Technology. FETAC awards carry points which can be used to access higher education.
Who are adult learners?
AONTAS estimates that there are approximately 200,000 adults involved in formal, further education programmes. These are adults availing of education through local VECs (including adult literacy, community education, Youthreach, VTOS, Back to Education Initiative, PLC programmes and Senior Traveller Training Centres). Over the past two years over 10,000 adults have entered third level education, and there are now almost 160,000 adults on FÁS programmes. A further 30,000 adults are estimated to take part in non-formal community education.
During the boom years, it is estimated that one in every five people was employed in the construction sector in Ireland. Over the past two and a half years, employment in the construction, manufacturing and retail sector has declined dramatically. With little immediate prospects for employment, many of those employed in these sectors have no other option other than to upskill or retrain. Also an increasing number of highly skilled adults have also found themselves unemployed and adult education is providing a gateway for them to change career. This has led to a dramatic increase in the numbers of adults requesting further education and training making the sector one of the largest growth areas of the whole education system.
Third level Fees
The Free Fees Initiative means that you will not pay fees for doing a degree full time. If you decide to do it part time you will have to pay fees.If you didn’t complete your second level education, or don’t have a third level qualification, and are on the live register then you may be eligible for the Back to Education Allowance.
If you return to third level on a full time basis, then you will be eligible for the Free Fees Initiative, but you will have to pay full fees if you take the same degree on a part time basis. Adult students in difficult financial circumstances can apply for the Student Assistance Fund, through the Access Officer in the University.
The Student Contribution Fee (formerly the Student Registration Fee)
If you are paying full fees, you will also have to pay the Student Registration Fee, the cost of which varies depending on the Institution. If you are deemed eligible for the Back to Education Allowance, then the government may meet the costs of the Student Contribution Fee on your behalf. In order for this to happen, you must submit an application through the relevant Students Grant Scheme.
The Back to Education Allowance
This is a second chance educational opportunities scheme for people on welfare payments who wish to participate in full-time education and who would not otherwise be able to do so. There are two options - a second level option for those who didn’t complete their formal secondary education, and a third level option if you have not attended third level. The allowance is paid at a rate approximately equivalent to the social welfare payment you receive. In addition, if you qualify for the Back to Education Allowance, you will keep an entitlement to any secondary benefits you already have, for example, Christmas Bonus, Fuel Allowance, or Rent Supplement and Mortgage Interest Supplement under the Supplementary Allowance Scheme. In addition to your payment, you will be eligible for an annual ‘Cost of Education’ allowance of approximately €500. You can take a third level course at any university, college or third level institution provided it has been approved by the Department of Education and Science. The Department may also meet the costs of the Student Contribution Fee (formerly the Student Registration fee) payable to the third level institution at the beginning of the academic year. Since Budget 2010, if you receive the Back to Education Allowance, you will no longer qualify for a Student Maintenance Grant.
The Supplementary Budget in 2010 made some changes to the qualifying criteria for the Back to Education Allowance. To qualify for the second level option, the length of time you must be in receipt of a qualifying social welfare payment is reduced from 6 months to 3 months. To qualify for the third level option, the length of time you must be getting a qualifying social welfare payment will be reduced from 12 months to 9 months, on the recommendation of a Jobs Facilitator. You may also be eligible for BTEA if you are an adult dependent.
General education and training allowances
As well as introducing some new measures to address rising unemployment, the government has reduced some payments in line with cuts to public expenditure. Allowances to participants in VTOS, Youthreach and Senior Traveller Training Centres were reduced in line with the appropriate social welfare rates or FÁS trainee allowances. If you are already in receipt of a student maintenance grant, you can expect to receive 5% less than in previous years.