Address to the Launch of the Irish Times Higher Options 2014

Education, Skills, Speeches

17th September, 2014

Check against delivery.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to be here in the RDS to launch the Irish Times Higher Options College Expo 2014.

My thanks to Liam Kavanagh, MD, Kevin O’Sullivan, Editor and Claire Looby, Organiser of the Irish Times Higher Options Expo for your very kind invitation. This annual event, which is almost 30 years in existence, provides a unique opportunity for both school leavers and mature students to discover the vast range of options available to them for further study or training.  There are now numerous opportunities on offer within the further and higher education sector for students to train and upskill, which in turn will enhance their job prospects in the future. I understand that over 25,000 students and hundreds of guidance counsellors and parents are due to attend the event over the next three days.

This year more than 150 institutions from Ireland, UK and further afield will participate in the Higher Options Expo offering support and advise to those wishing to engage in further and higher education.  A very broad range of institutions are represented, including universities, institutes of technology, colleges of further and higher education and professional bodies.

Higher Options brings the world of study directly to students, providing a unique opportunity to meet directly with representatives from universities, colleges and education institutions.  There is a world of choice in education and career options for school-leavers and mature students nowadays, and The Higher Options Expo brings that choice under one roof in this unique event.

The National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 sets out a comprehensive roadmap for reform of the higher education system.   The objectives of the reform programme are to ensure that the system becomes more performance oriented, more flexible and responsive while its diversity in terms of mission is retained and enhanced. We know that meeting Ireland’s need for economic renewal and development will rely on our capacity and reputation for producing highly skilled, creative and innovative graduates as well as new knowledge and innovation at both regional and national levels.

The intrinsic strength of a Higher Education Institute lies not only in its academic capacity to generate and transmit knowledge but also in its ability to engage and develop strong mutual partnerships with enterprise.  The relationship between our higher education institutions and enterprise is of vital importance for economic stability and to ensure growth and sustainability for the future.

It is important that graduates emerge from the third level system with the skills required by employers in key growth areas.  While developing specific skills in disciplines where there will be job opportunities is fundamental to securing future economic growth, of equal importance is that we equip graduates with the necessary skills to make them adaptable across a range of disciplines. 21st century business leaders need graduates with specific technical skills but they also want these graduates to be equipped with core employability skills such as creativity, critical thinking, communication and team working.  The ever changing needs of the labour market as well as people’s increasing openness to career mobility underlines the need for continuous cooperation and partnership between higher education and business in shaping curricula and defining the skills and competences needed for the modern knowledge workers.

A return to full time education is not a feasible option for many people who have lost their jobs in recent years. In recognition of this, in 2011 the Government launched the Springboard programme, a specific initiative to provide free higher education places for unemployed people and jobseekers in areas of current and future skills needs. Now in its fourth year, Springboard has supported more than 16,000 unemployed people to undertake higher education programmes in areas of identified skills needs such as ICT, Medical Devices and International Financial Services. Close engagement with enterprise at all stages of the tendering and selection process has been a key feature of Springboard with the majority of courses containing a work placement element.  I am delighted to say that evaluations to date show that the majority of Springboard graduates are finding new employment opportunities in a variety of sectors within six months of completing their studies.

The Skills to Work initiative is a cross-Government campaign to raise awareness of the various programmes which are aimed at getting people back to work.  While unemployment levels are continuing to fall, the biggest challenge still facing our country is unemployment.  Getting people back to work and ensuring they earn a living wage is our priority.

This Government has introduced a range of programmes to do just that – now with Skills to Work we are making it easier for jobseekers and employers to quickly find out what initiatives they may qualify for, provide information on those programmes and how to apply for them.

The Skills to Work brand brings together the range of enterprise-focused targeted education and training programmes available to jobseekers in a coordinated way. I strongly encourage jobseekers, wishing to follow a course of study, to reskill or to upskill, to go to the Skills to Work website to find which of the Government’s skills initiatives best suits them.

The PLC programme is one of the largest and most successful programmes in the Further Education and Training sector. Over 30,000 adults enrol annually on the programme. Courses are aimed at preparing learners both for employment and for progression into other areas of education and training.  They provide integrated general education, vocational training and work experience mainly for young people who have completed upper second level education or adults returning to education.  PLC offers a variety of programmes across a wide range of disciplines supporting industry and community needs.

Progression for PLC learners to third level institutions can be accessed through the Higher Education Links Scheme (HELS) which links a number of QQI level 5 and 6 awards to a variety of 3rd level courses in participating higher education institutions.  These progression opportunities are operated through the CAO system.

In conclusion, I once again thank you for your kind invitation to launch the Higher Options Expo. I am sure that this event will be of enormous benefit and assistance to all those wishing to participate in future or higher education or to avail of upskilling or reskilling opportunities. This Expo makes it clear that there is a wide variety of choice available.

Thank you.

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