A new “outcome-based funding model for Further Education and Training” (FET) was announced this week by Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris TD. Minister Harris announced that “FET needs to expand its role and its contribution in meeting the needs of our economy, and more importantly, our society.”
This new model for funding in the FET sector has been described as a simplified approach to funding the Education and Training Boards (ETBs), which will allow for more flexible spending and education that is driven by the needs of and feedback from learners.
We welcome this policy and believe it will lay the foundations for the new integrated tertiary education system. While we have certain concerns, we welcome the targeted approach of this funding model to specific target groups.
This new model has been described as a “five pot system.” One pot will make sure resources go into key areas like quality assurance, enterprise engagement, consistent learner support, agile programme development, and data analysis. The other four pots will drive provision, including:
The new funding model has two categories. The first includes community education, refugee-specific provision, literacy and other programmes. This is categorised broadly as “Funding for FET Pathways.” Due to the diversity of learners and their complex needs, a “block-grant system" is recommended in the report for this group “to provide funding for FET Pathways”, which is a key difference with this new funding model.
The second category is called “Funding for FET Provision for Employment and HE Transition.” The new report on this new funding model, developed by an independent panel, highlights the need to focus on the wider societal benefits of learning and non-formal education, such as gaining a sense of community, building self-confidence, and mental health among others. It also suggests the need for longitudinal studies, which will be used to recognise the diversity of outcomes for learners and their pathways in education. These studies may seek to capture, for example, how a learner might engage in non-formal education and benefit from wraparound support services, and subsequently progress to full-time and higher-level programmes.
In previous consultations on this, AONTAS recommended providing a multi-annual funding model. This is now recognised in the new policy and we welcome this change. It recognises the diversity of local and regional needs. Each ETB has a lot of local knowledge and expertise in relation to the gaps and areas that should be prioritised. Long-term planning is also vital and we hope that this translates to longer-term funding for locally based community education providers.
We also welcome the focus on strategic planning that will allow ETBs to have more flexibility. We believe this will provide greater opportunities for ETBs and community education providers to work and plan collaboratively.
Community education groups offer accredited provision and also enable learners to engage in ETB-accredited provision, as well as providing a range of other learning and social outcomes, such as building collective learning and creating heathier communities, which can result in more social engagement and positive intergenerational relationships. It is important to recognise and capture this as part of the new focus of the wider benefits of learning. AONTAS is happy to work with SOLAS on the development of systems designed to capture a range of outcomes from FET and community education.
AONTAS is currently seeking feedback with members about the ETB Learner Registration (PLSS) process, to ensure that learners who face the most barriers will not continue to be left behind under this new funding model.
We hope that our findings will influence SOLAS’s approach, as the new model still states that “funding will be allocated based on accurate PLSS data input and analysis.”
We will share the findings from our research into this as part of a policy paper, with the view to informing a new approach under this model.
We are also cautious about the report’s suggestion that “in line with the simplification of access and pathways set out in Transforming Learning, the number of different programmes should reduce, with a focus on learning and outcomes, and wraparound learner support then on hand to cater for the different needs of different target groups.”
Maintaining a variety of programmes acknowledges the diversity of learners’ needs and this is a core strength of adult and community education.
We are wary of the possibility that the new model could encourage competition between providers, rather than building solidarity and a collective approach. We encourage all stakeholders to work together, and put the learner at the heart of all future policy implementation.
AONTAS recommends including a diversity of providers, including FET and community education, in the development and piloting of a new qualitative tool for capturing the wider benefits of learning. This may provide a deeper understanding of diverse learning experiences, including those in non-formal education.
We hope this new approach will improve the grant system for ETBs and their partner providers and foster greater social inclusion in adult learning.
Click here to read the report on the new funding model.