Five year further education strategy launched by Minister Harris

Climate change and sustainable development are to become a critical focus for the new strategy

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris has today launched the National Further Education and Training (FET) Strategy.

Minister of State for Further Education Niall Collins also launched the strategy this morning, with a live-streamed formal launch on the FET Facebook page. 

The strategy outlines a five-year roadmap for the sector which is built around three key pillars of building skills, fostering inclusion and creating pathways and aims to address the economic and societal challenges faced over the coming years.

Traditional areas of FET will still be built upon, such as healthcare, personal services and construction, while climate change and sustainable development will become a critical focus for the strategy.

In a press release this morning, Simon Harris stated: “This strategy will aim to address some of the key challenges we face including the digital divide, female participation and the skills mismatch we are seeing.”

The strategy aims to create pathways between further education and higher education. Harris explained at the livestreamed launch that it is an attempt to “bridge” them together.

Harris emphasised that the new department is “not a department for universities, it is a department for learners”.

The new strategy will end vocationally focused programmes, replacing them with a new Level 5 and Level 6 proposition, and consolidate existing FET provision within a single integrated college structure.

Speaking this morning, Harris said: “Further education and training is for everyone. It provides an opportunity for everyone to engage in learning whilst delivering on the critical skills needs of the economy and the future world of work. It was a lifeline for many during the economic recession, and once again FET will be critical to our post-COVID recovery.”

On the livestreamed launch this morning, SOLAS’ Andrew Brownlee spoke about how FET is “for everyone” and is “everywhere”. He explained that the programme is available in every part of the country, regardless of previous former education.

He continued, explaining that FET is “simplifying the pathways to jobs and higher education”, to create “larger FET colleges of the future”, that will “change the hearts and minds of the communities we serve”. 

Both Brownlee and Minister Harris emphasised today that in the near future, FET will help “upskill and reskill” those who have lost their jobs following the Covid-19 crisis.

Speaking on the livestream, Harris stated: “Covid-19 has taken so many things that we thought were certain in lives”

He continued that while there’s “a lot of nervousness and uncertainty”, this is an “opportunity or FET to come in” and help upskill and reskill individuals.

Harris stated that we should be “rebuilding” rather than “restarting” the country. He claimed that the new strategy is a target for everyone, stating “it has an impact on every single one of us and it can have an impact on everyone”.

The strategy also outlines that mental health and wellbeing will be embedded within FET. The programme will train staff in mental health learning within their professional development and learners will have it embedded in the curriculum.

In a press release this morning, Harris said: “At the heart of this strategy is inclusion. There are many cohorts with diverse needs, such as people with disabilities, new migrants, Travellers, the long-term unemployed, ex-offenders.”

“All these require focused types of support to address their particular circumstances and needs,” he continued. “This strategy requires a more targeted approach to addressing barriers around participation, completion and progression for marginalised and prioritised cohorts.”

Harris added: “We will reach out to particular groups and facilitate a pathway to re-engage with education through FET. Addressing the needs of people with disabilities will be a primary focus.”

The strategy will offer a new range of apprenticeships with a “strong focus” on increasing the diversity, with particular goals around increasing female participation and providing access to people with disabilities.

Minister of State Collins added: “The future of FET is now. There is a place for everyone to join this journey in transforming learning.” 

“However FET needs to grow its profile across potential learners, communities, employers and Government to ensure that the sustainable value from FET and the ambitious vision and reform set out in this strategy is more widely acknowledged,” he continued.

Shannon Connolly

Shannon Connolly is the Editor-in-Chief of the 69th volume Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister student of English Literature and Philosophy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.