AONTAS, the National Adult Learning Organisation, has welcomed the commitment to supporting learners and addressing the impact of COVID-19 announced in Budget 2022 today (12.10.21).
AONTAS CEO Niamh O’Reilly said: “COVID-19 has highlighted educational inequalities. Many reactive measures that have been put in place as stopgaps, must now be evolved and integrated within a more durable, flexible and sustainable model of funding to create long lasting, meaningful change.”
“Since March 2020 there has been a significant reduction in marginalised groups, such as Travellers and people who left school early participating in education. A recent OECD report showed a 26% drop in adults taking part in both formal and non-formal education and training. The AONTAS Pre-Budget submission called for immediate action to address the specific impact that the COVID-19 crisis had on educationally disadvantaged individuals and communities. As we now enter a new era recovering from COVID-19, it is vital that the lessons learned throughout the pandemic do not go unheeded. Inequalities and disadvantages that were exacerbated will not automatically dissipate or improve as time moves on.
AONTAS has continually flagged the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on exacerbating educational disadvantage. As such we welcome the additional funding allocated by the Government in Budget 2022 responding to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the Higher Education and Further Education and Training sectors, wider labour market challenges, as well as addressing additional capacity demands arising from the atypical Leaving Certificate in 2022.
Budget 2022 goes some way in addressing these inequalities and some of the measures announced will provide vital supports and resources to meet the needs of those learners most educationally disadvantaged.
AONTAS welcomes the support for lifelong learning especially the announcement that the €200 Post Leaving Certificate levy/fee will be abolished which will support access and participation for all learners.
Also measures including the provision of training to support jobseekers and addressing climate and low carbon initiatives (8,900 places on skills to compete and 35,000 learners to avail of green skills modules and additional places on Retrofit and NZEB expansion) is welcome.
AONTAS also welcomes funding to support the implementation of the new 10 year Adult Literacy for Life Strategy which aims to address the long-standing, systemic issue of adult literacy in Ireland. This learner focused strategy aims to meet the needs of people within the areas of literacy, numeracy and digital literacy, ensuring that they can participate fully in society (both socially and economically).
We know that childcare is a huge barrier that prevents learners, especially lone parents, from accessing education. We welcome much needed childcare supports announced in Budget 2022 that are vital to encourage access to lifelong learning for women. A detailed breakdown of supports is outlined by AONTAS member One Family.
Other welcome measures that will be vital for increasing lifelong learning participation as we look to recovery post COVID-19 include supporting the ambition of Future FET: Transforming Learning 2020-24, and the provision of 1,500 places to meet the high level demands for Springboard courses.
In our submission, AONTAS highlighted the financial supports needed for mature students and we welcome the increase in grants and additional learner supports. Welcome improvements in student supports announced in Budget 2022 include increases to the SUSI maintenance grant payment (€200), expansion of certain income thresholds and measures in relation to the nonadjacent grant; additional supports for students impacted by COVID-19 and pilot initiatives for equity and inclusion in the Programme for Access to Higher Education (PATH).
Given the exacerbation of educational disadvantage arising from COVID-19, particularly for
many of the learner cohorts engaging in community education, AONTAS’ Pre-Budget submission called for an equitable support plan for the community education sector as part of a national tertiary education wide approach to educational equality. While the Mitigating Educational Disadvantage fund announced in Budget 2021 has proven a vital source of funding for community education, further commitment is needed.
AONTAS welcomes additional funding for the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP), Community Centres small capital grant scheme (new) and supports for the community and voluntary sector.
We thank Minister Harris, and his team in the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and the Department of Rural and Community Development for their commitment to social inclusion. Additionally, as a membership organisation we would like to thank our members for their continued engagement and support to ensure we are an authentic voice of adult learning, as we advocate for educational equality.
AONTAS’ Pre-Budget submission is available at: https://www.aontas.com/assets/resources/Submissions/AONTAS%20Pre-Budget%20Submission%202022-Sept.pdf