14 Oct 2022

Learners' Voices Across Ireland - the National FET Learner Forum 2021-22

Minister Simon Harris, AONTAS CEO Dearbháil Lawless, Adult Leaners Noel Hanrahan, John Pinto and Catherine Kelly at the Learners Voices Across Ireland event

The rising cost of fuel, irregular public transport timetables - particularly in rural communities – and insufficient funding to meet travel needs were identified by adult learners as barriers to their educational success at our event ‘Learners’ Voices Across Ireland’ held in Wood Quay venue, Dublin on 13 October 2022.

Key findings and recommendations include:  

These and other findings are presented in our National Further Education and Training (FET) Learner Forum Annual Synthesis Report 2021-2022. This report brings together the results of nationwide research that includes 2,576 survey responses from adult learners in further education and training, as well as focus groups that took place in collaboration with 10 Education and Training Boards during the last academic year.



We have conducted the FET Learner Forum since 2016. It facilitates adult learners to share their experiences of learning and shares their feedback and recommendations with Education and Training Boards (ETBs).

Speaking at the event, our CEO Dearbháil Lawless, said, “The findings reflect key issues affecting learners in the aftermath of COVID-19 and the return to in-person learning. We were particularly interested in capturing the experiences of learners from marginalised or vulnerable demographics who face additional barriers to education. Despite many positive aspects of returning to education, learners shared how the allowances they received did not cover the actual cost involved in taking their course, and how this placed a significant financial burden on them. It’s time to review and enhance financial transport and supports so that adult learners can meet their full potential.”  

Thanking both learners and representatives from the Education and Training Boards, Dearbháil continued: “The feedback from each adult learner will further the aim of creating a more inclusive, improved and democratic FET sector in the future and the ETBs’ openness to receiving the feedback from learners through these reports is a cornerstone of the project. We are grateful for your continued participation and support.”

AONTAS Research Officers Dr Laura Lovejoy and Aisling Meyler, presented the report findings and recommendations. Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD delivered the keynote address.

Speaking at the event, he said: “The report shows real areas we need to address. These are the authentic voices of 3,000 people using our education system today, and telling us what we need to know in order to do better, and to deliver for learners. We have to ensure that all learners have a say in the direction of their education and training. The report does a great job of highlighting the main challenges faced by FET learners in Ireland today, issues around transport, communications, progression, work experience – I’ve taken back what’s been highlighted to colleagues in my own Department and in the Department of Transport as well.”

The report launch was part of our one-day event ‘Learners’ Voices Across Ireland’. This brought together adult learners who had taken part in the FET Learner Forum with representatives of policy-making organisations including: SOLAS; the Education and Training Boards; and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. Adult learners Sorcha McAuley Stamp, Derek O'Kelly and Paula O'Shea took part in a panel discussion about their experience of the National FET Learner Forum, and shared their key feedback around transport, support for those with disabilities, and recognition of FET and the arts. As Paula O'Shea highlighted, "Lack of reliable transport can mean some learners withdraw from courses". The learners also spoke about the exceptional support they received from tutors.

AONTAS Research Officer Kalianne Farren presented findings from the FET Learners as Leaders Project 2021-2022, followed by a panel discussion featuring Professor Emeritus Peter Lavender of the University of Wolverhampton, Colin Cummins, FET Director, Tipperary Education and Training Board and Chairperson of the Directors of Further Education and Training Forum Inclusion Strategy Group, Martha Bolger, FET Director, Kilkenny and Carlow Education and Training Board, and Maria Walsh, Director of Branding, Communications and FET Strategy Implementation.

Some learners shared their experience directly with Minister Harris before the event, and all took part in an afternoon workshop that focused on the core aspects of representation, campaigning and advocacy for adult learners. Dearbháil Lawless and Fiona Dunne, affiliated with the union Fórsa, faciliated a learner discussion about issues like the importance of building solidarity with others when trying to create change; finding the right people to approach within an organisation; and acknowledging that change sometimes need to be negotiated slowly between multiple people.   

The National Further Education and Training (FET) Learner Forum project is funded by SOLAS, the National Further Education and Training authority.

You can view photos from the day on our Facebook page. You can also follow the hashtag #FETLearnerForum on Twitter to find out more about the day's events and the FET Learner Forum.  

We would like to thank everyone who attended the event and all of the learners who took part in the National FET Learner Forum in 2021-2022.

Download the Annual Synthesis Report 2021-2022.

For more information about the National Further Education and Training (FET) Learner Forum Annual Synthesis Report 2021-2022, please contact AONTAS Research Officers Kalianne Farren, Dr Laura Lovejoy and Aisling Meyler