Budget 2020 must take heed of deficits in Ireland's education system

Posted on Monday, 15 July 2019

Investment in education at all levels and throughout the life cycle can deliver a more equal society and prepare citizens to participate in a democracy. Social Justice Ireland has proposed a €429m education package for Budget 2020 that includes investment in areas such as adult literacy, DEIS, skills development, and community education. This includes:

Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE)

When it comes to investing in early years and ECCE, Ireland compares poorly to other European countries and we also fall short of the UNICEF-recommended levels of investment. Ireland spends just under 0.2% GDP (0.25% of GNI*) on pre-primary education compared to an OECD average of 0.8% of GDP. Social Justice Ireland proposes that Government allocate €65m in Budget 2020, to bring spending in this area to 0.3% of GNI*, and build on this investment each year to meet the OECD average by 2022. This investment must include non-contact ECCE time. 

Primary Schools in Disadvantaged Areas

Despite recent improvements there is still a large achievement gap between students from lower socio-economic backgrounds and their more affluent peers. More investment is required to close the attainment gap between students in DEIS schools and students from other schools. Social Justice Ireland proposes an increase in funding for DEIS schools, including the expansion of the Student Support Scheme Pilot, of €15m in Budget 2020.

We also recommend the restoration of the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance to 2011 levels (cost €18m), as well as a 10% increase in funding for the Schools Meals Programme (cost €4m).

Finally, Budget 2020 should see an increase in capitation grants at both primary and secondary level by 10% (cost €28m).

Further and Higher Education

An additional €40m investment in Further Education and Training to develop and expand apprenticeships and traineeships to meet future skills needs and advance the circular economy, particularly at a regional and community level.

An additional €40m in State funding in higher education as a first step towards meeting the core funding requirements identified in the Cassells Report. 

Maintenance Grants for Full-and Part-Time Students and funding for Students with a Disability

Social Justice Ireland proposes that Government allocate €107m in Budget 2020 to extend the maintenance grant to part-time students at both under- and post-graduate levels, increase the maintenance grant for FT students by €1,000, and extend the fee grant to PT students. 

We also propose an increased allocation of €1m to the Fund for Students with a Disability in Budget 2020.

Human Capital Initiative

We propose the expansion of the Human Capital Initiative to encompass digital literacy, an inclusion of courses at levels 4 and 5, and the targeting of the groups identified as underrepresented in the National Access Plan. It would also upskill the labour force, contribute to our lifelong learning target and ensure coherence across our community, further and higher education strategies. Social Justice Ireland proposes an investment of €20m to expand the Human Capital Initiative in Budget 2020. 

Apprenticeships and Traineeships

Travellers have among of the lowest school completion rates and employment rates in Ireland. We propose a €2m investment in additional apprenticeship and traineeship places for Traveller students.

Lifelong Learning

The lifelong learning rate in Ireland at 9% is improving, but still well below our national target of 15%. Social Justice Ireland proposes an additional investment of €40m in lifelong learning and digital education in Budget 2020.

Adult Literacy and Community Education

A significant proportion of Ireland’s adults only have very basic literacy and numeracy skills. Social Justice Ireland proposes an additional €30m in Budget 2020 to implement the ‘Upskilling Pathways Plan - New Opportunities for Adults.

Social Justice Ireland also proposes an additional investment of €5m in Community Education with a focus on meeting the needs of learners at all levels.