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Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science | Role of the department in the current and future years

To ask the Minister for Further and Higher Education; Research; Innovation and Science the role he sees for the further and higher education, research, innovation and science sectors in the current year and future years; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


My Department has made significant changes in the further and higher education, research, innovation and science sectors since its establishment in 2020, and are looking forward to seeing these sectors flourish over this current year and the years to follow.

With 400,000 people enrolled in learning across further and higher education, the Department is responsible for a fairly sizable sector. Learning outcomes have a significant influence on people’s life paths.

Compared to the EU and OECD averages, Ireland has high levels of higher education attainment. Survey results indicate that 86% of employers that have recruited graduates from higher education are satisfied with their quality.
The major priorities for my Department over the current period include:

Unified Tertiary System
–    In order to ensure the Further and Higher Education and Research sectors work collaboratively and effectively together to meet the diverse learning and development needs of all people, my Department is seeking more agile, sustainable and integrated approaches to equipping the whole of the workforce and population with the skills and knowledge that they need and thereby expand the capacity for knowledge creation in a rapidly changing labour market and society.
–     We will develop a new Tertiary Education Strategy, as provided for in the Higher Education Authority Act, 2022, continuing and expanding a co-creative approach with sectors and stakeholders, drawing on a series of regional dialogue meetings which will be held involving all regional actors, to shape and guide policy and ensure the achievement of major cross-Government policy objectives.
–    In addition, my Department is working with the HEA and SOLAS to embed and progress the new National Tertiary Office to jointly develop programmes between Further and Higher education to provide firm and systemic pathways for learners, enabled by qualifications and quality assurance systems.

The Department will continue to drive the transformation in Technological Universities, where the past decade has seen a major reconfiguration of higher education with the establishment of five Technological Universities, with a mandate to drive skills, innovation and smart specialisation in their regions, ultimately contributing to more balanced regional development. The challenge in the next phase is to transform the systemic capabilities of the TU sector to enable them to deliver most effectively for their regions.
We will implement the National Access Plan, in collaboration with the HEA, including a focus on the development of programmes for people with intellectual disabilities and continue to develop policy and funding initiatives to support equality, diversity and inclusion among staff and students and to implement key policies including the strategy to prevent sexual violence and harassment.  
I am also committed to making further progress in addressing cost as a barrier to higher education by identifying the measures which provide the most benefit to learners and families and prioritising these in the Estimates process. In line with this, we will continue implementation of the Review of the Student Grant Scheme (2022) including by introducing reforms to the student support system to ensure it is aligned with the changing needs of students and families.
The Action Plan for Apprenticeship is a key element of my Department’s future plans. There is acute awareness of the need to address current backlogs in apprenticeship training and meet future demand projections set out in the recent report on Skills for Residential Construction and Retrofit working in partnership with SOLAS and HEA.
Reform of Further Education and Training (FET)
      My Department is working closely with SOLAS and the ETBs to develop the integrated FET College of the Future and secure improvements in quality assurance, programme development, enterprise engagement, digital transformation and data management to maximise the impact of FET Reform.
Reconfigure Ireland’s Skills system: 
–    We are on track to complete the OECD review of the National Skills Strategy to meet skills and workforce development priorities for the climate, digital and demographic transition. We will develop a 2023 Strategic Framework for Skills responding to the recommendations in the OECD Review with a particular focus on securing step-change in Ireland’s performance on Lifelong Learning.
My Department will be examining options to strengthen structures for regional engagement between enterprise and tertiary education system in order to meet regional skills and clustering priorities.

National Training Fund
–     The National Training Fund is a valuable resource which we are working to maximise, including through seeking to use the NTF to improve the response to enterprise skills and workforce development requirements for digitisation, climate action, Industry 4.0, and Modern Methods of Construction. In particular, we are examining how best to utilise the accumulated surplus in the NTF.
Research and Innovation
My Department is progressing a landmark Research Bill to amalgamate the functions of Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Research Council into a new Research Agency, to maximise the impact of the approximately €300m of national competitive research funding which is currently being invested in this area; importantly, this represents almost 40% of Government expenditure on R&D.
A whole of government approach to the implementation of Ireland’s National Research and Innovation strategy, Impact 2030, is also being progressed to ensure the national research and innovation system supports key Government strategies such as the White Paper for Enterprise, Climate Action Plan and Smart Specialisation of regions. A key focus will be ensuring and communicating the impact of research and innovation at every level – local, regional, national and international.  
As part of the Talent Pillar of Impact 2030 a review of PhD supports will be concluded. Work is continuing with enterprise co-funders on a new internationally prestigious Innovate for Ireland PhD scholarship programme focused on national challenges.
In addition to these core priorities, the Departmentis actively engaged in the Shared Island initiativeand the EU Peaceplus programme for Northern Ireland. Projects underway include all-island research centres managed by SFI, North/South research programmes managed by the HEA, student mobility and education and skills initiatives.
I am also committed to ensuring Ireland maximises participation in relevant international and European education, research and innovation fora including the European Research Area, Horizon Europe, Erasmus+ and European Universities initiative. Ireland’s application for membership of CERN will be submitted to Government for consideration in 2023.
Finally, a new international education and research strategy is currently being finalised. The Strategy will emphasize Shared Island, European and Global Ireland engagements across the spectrum of further education, higher education, skills, research and innovation.
Underpinning all of these initiatives is a major programme of capital investment, focused on meeting the needs of the sector as a whole, including the pressing need to develop further our Student Accommodation offering, while also being delivered in light of the challenges of Climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions.

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