The government has sought to address employer concerns about an increase in the contributions employers pay to higher education, offering them greater input into future decisions on training and education in Ireland.
A review of the national training fund comes as the third-level sector awaits a decision from the government on whether the annual levy employers pay towards higher education will increase. The review, the government said, will look at what the fund is delivering and how effective it is at responding to current problems.
Employers have, over the last six months, expressed their scepticism at the idea of an increase in the levy and the announcement today comes with the promise that employers will have greater input into shaping the fund and the type of training that is delivered by institutions in the future.
The increase, which students’ unions and universities have been lobbying for in recent months, would see the levy rise by 0.1 of a percentage point annually, and would mean that by 2020 the levy would grow from 0.7 per cent to one per cent. Such an increase, which the government say could deliver €200 million to higher education by 2020, has already been resisted by employer groups like Ibec.
The review comes after the government recommended such an increase in a report published in March. An increase in employer contributions to higher education was a central part of the presentation made to the Oireachtas Education and Skills Committee by trade unions, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU).
The increase comes as the Oireachtas Education and Skills Committee is considering the report of the government’s higher education funding working group. The Cassells report, which was published last year and was commissioned by the government to look into future funding options for third-level education, recommended that employers, often seen as the main beneficiaries of Ireland’s graduates, should contribute to the funding. This, the report advised, could be brought about by raising the levy employers pay to the national training fund.
The announcement comes days after the debate on a new funding model for higher education received renewed scrutiny after an unsuccessful Labour motion in the Seanad called for the government to reject a loan scheme and support publicly funded education.
The increase in the levy forms one part of the Action Plan for Education which, while scant on many commitments to higher education, set out a timeline for when decisions might be made on new funding for the sector.
In a press statement, the Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, promised to give employers a platform on the newly established National Skills Council, which advises on current and future skills needs. He also promised complete transparency on the expenditure and impact of the national training fund. An independent review of the fund will be commissioned and will be overseen by a steering group with representation of government departments, as well as employer representatives.
In a press statement, Minister for Education Richard Bruton said: “It is reasonable to ask employers to contribute more as their future success depends so much on the capacity of the education sector to respond to their needs.”
Highlighting the importance of increased funding to the education sector he said: “Ireland must identify, prioritise and address the existing and future skills needs of our economy and society. Winning the war for talent will be crucial to achieving and sustaining full employment, against a backdrop of international challenges.”
Recently appointed in a newly created role as Minister of State with special responsibility for higher education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor commended the review and the engagement with employers in a press statement as “a very positive step forward”.
In a press statement, the Minister for Training and Skills, John Halligan, said that it “will give employers a greater input into the priorities” of the fund, something which he said is “essential” for key stakeholders to “continue to build on existing and foster new relationships within the enterprise community and that all sectors of the economy embrace the challenge to develop new apprenticeships”.
Correction: June 15th, 2017
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the national training fund levy on employers would increase by 0.1 per cent each year. In fact, it will increase by 0.1 of a percentage point each year.