6 Aug 2021

AONTAS Membership Support - July 2021

Niamh O’Reilly, AONTAS CEO

Dear AONTAS Member,

AONTAS successfully advocated for a second tranche of the Mitigating against Educational Disadvantage (MAED) fund for community education (€8million) which Minister Simon Harris TD announced as part of a funding package to support the safe on-site return to tertiary education in September (click here for more information).
As demonstrated in the recent CEN Census 2020 - Community Education in a time of COVID-19 research report (launched on 30th June 2021), community education has risen to the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrating resilience, innovation and persistence to meet the needs of learners and the local community.

Through our weekly membership webinars, Community Education Network (CEN) meetings and Further Education and Training (FET) Learner Forum events in 2020, we witnessed the impact of COVID-19 in exacerbating educational disadvantage. AONTAS lobbied for a COVID-19 Community Education Support fund for 2020/2021 (published July 2020), as part of the Pre-Budget submission 2021 and the Department for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science's (DFHERIS) Statement of Strategy submission 2021-2023. During this time, AONTAS chaired the Mitigating Educational Disadvantage (including Community Education Issues) Working Group, as part of the DFHERIS' tertiary education system COVID-19 response structure. AONTAS also advocated for this specific funding support for community education through engagement with DFHERIS and Minister Harris and was delighted that such a fund was announced as part of Budget 2021 (October 2020). 

Support and monitoring the impact of the Mitigating against Educational Disadvantage (MAED) funding
AONTAS was committed to supporting community education groups to access funding during the narrow time frame of the MAED call made on the evening of the 6th/ 9th November 2020. We supported our members through email communication, social media, ongoing support from Dearbháil Lawless, AONTAS Head of Advocacy who responded to 50 queries. AONTAS also hosted a webinar with over 70 participants including support from Tara Farrell, AONTAS Chairperson.

We also documented the positive impact of the MAED funding and how future iterations could be improved through a summary analysis in December 2021. You can view this analysis in the Making an Impact: A Reflective View of the Mitigating Against Educational Disadvantage Fund (MAEDF) report, published in March 2021 as part of the AONTAS Policy Day

Last May, I outlined the benefits and impact of the MAED funding in an opinion piece published in the Irish Times. More recently, at the CEN Census Report launch, we published a Policy Paper explicitly calling for a range of measures needed to support community education during COVID-19, including a specific recommendation for improved MAED funding. The new MAED funding is welcome and will be a much needed "lifeline" for community education groups who are struggling financially during the pandemic, yet are oversubscribed for courses. Findings from the CEN Census report note that marginalised learners are the dominant cohort in community education. Community education contributes to access, the development of basic skills, and sustainable employment. Notably, it empowers people to engage in adult learning and can lead to positive change. However, underfunding of community education coupled with increased needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic is evident. Findings demonstrate the complexity, precarity and loss of funding for community education together with an increased demand for programmes and learner supports. This vitally needed fund will go some way to support and enable blended learning, accredited and non-accredited provision and, vitally, outreach and engagement.

Together for Community Education
Due to collective efforts, community education is gaining greater recognition, and we thank our members, the AONTAS Community Education Network and all those involved in educational equality for highlighting the need, participating in our research and advocating for a fairer distribution of funding for community education. We also recognise and appreciate the support from Minister Harris TD, DFHERIS and SOLAS for their commitment to community education. Over the course of the pandemic, we have a deepened understanding of the scale of the challenges but also the importance and power of the collective. 

AONTAS is here for you, our members, and will support community education groups to access this second trench of MAED funding. Please stay in touch. We wish you a relaxing summer break and look forward to working together again in the autumn. 

In support,

Niamh O’Reilly  


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