Budget 2025: AONTAS calls for greater investment in adult learners as approximately 1 in 3 cite lack of financial supports as key barrier to education

24 Jun 2024
With the next Budget soon on the horizon, we are calling on the Government to recognise that people are still being left behind in the Irish education system.  

Writing by Kate Smyth, AONTAS Strategic Comms Officer

The cost of education in Ireland is too high. Approximately 1 in 3 people we surveyed said a lack of financial support is a key barrier to education, particularly for people from under-resourced communities. 

adult education professionals sitting around a table in a discussion
This is contributing to social and economic inequality, and central issues like homelessness and mental health. 

Our pre-budget submission for Budget 2025 seeks increased investment in adult and community education. We want to ensure that anyone who wants to or needs to learn has the opportunity and is properly supported to do so.  

People accessing education through Further Education and Training (FET) and community education are more likely to be from working-class backgrounds, to have lower levels of formal education, and to be at risk of poverty. This needs to be taken into account in the Budget, if we are to truly have an education system that is equal for all.  

We have submitted three specific calls-for-action to the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation, and Science, and will continue to lobby for policy changes in the run-up to the next general election.  

What are we asking for?  

We’re calling for DFHERIS to increase investment in community education to €30 million in the next budget. This means more funding through the Education and Training Boards and the Reach Fund. There is clear evidence that community education successfully results in the most hard-to-reach people engaging in education. Education that is accessible and available in local communities is often the first step to further studies and employment, but it is also a way for many people to feel better as individuals and members of a community, with increased self-confidence and wellbeing, and a greater sense of belonging and connection with others.  

 There is a strong network of existing community education providers across the island of Ireland, with people working every day to help people who often fall under the radar for other forms of education. With the recent launch of the new Community Education Framework, DFHERIS now needs to ensure there is a well-funded community education system, with the necessary resources in place to support educators to do this great work.  

We’re also calling for DFHERIS to increase social welfare payments for FET learners. This is important because approximately 1 in 3 FET learners are in receipt of social welfare payments. Most weekly payments are €86 under the poverty line, meaning that many existing FET learners are at risk of poverty.  

We call for a 24% increase in social welfare payments to FET learners, in line with the Minimum Essential Standard of Living (MESL). We recommend a 24% (€8.4 million) increase to the Back to Education Allowance, a 24% increase (€7.8 million) to FET Training Allowances, and a 14% increase (€48 million) to the Community Employment (CE) Scheme. We need the Government to recognise that people accessing FET are more likely to have lower levels of education and living in poverty, and so need increased financial supports to facilitate the same opportunities for employment and skills development as those from more affluent backgrounds. Increasing social welfare payments will attract more people into FET and away from low-paid, low-skilled jobs.  

DFHERIS has already committed to a review of the financial supports available to FET learners, as recommended in the Indecon Review from 2022. Our message is that they need to follow through on this commitment, because investing in FET is investing in our future and will result in a more equal Ireland. 

Finally, we are calling for DFHERIS to increase supplementary allowances by 50%. Supplementary allowances are financial supports for accommodation, food, and travel. They mainly apply to apprentices and trainees, an important area for DFHERIS. We want to see a 50% increase in supplementary allowances, at a cost of €7.7 million. Current meal allowances are just 80 cent per day for full-time trainees, and accommodation allowances are just under €70 per week. This is not enough to cover costs.  

Many learners leave their courses and return to low-paid jobs: 

“I had to leave my course because I wasn't able to afford my rent. That was a big reason for me leaving” – learner quoted in AONTAS research findings. 

“I get €5 a week for a meal allowance. This is not enough” – learner quoted in AONTAS research findings 

The 2023 Funding the Future options paper proposed increasing supplementary allowances by just under 50%. This was not included in Budget 2024. We call for it to be included in Budget 2025.  

We must make adult and community education truly accessible to all who want or need it, at any stage of life. 

We will continue to build on this work throughout 2024 and into 2025 through a national awareness-raising and policy-change campaign, “Holding You Back”, focusing on what holds people back in their opportunities for education in Ireland and what must change to prevent this.  

Read our Pre-Budget Submission for Budget 2025 here.