Jobseekers in €1.5bn scheme were less likely to find work
Unemployed workers who took part in a back-to-education scheme that has cost taxpayers almost €1.5bn were less likely to get a job compared to those who didn't.
The Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) was introduced in 1998 to help unemployed people do second- or third-level courses as a stepping stone to getting back into the workforce.
Over 22,700 people availed of the BTEA last year at a cost of €162.5m and the scheme has cost €1.49bn since its inception.
However, a new report by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) found there was no evidence that people who commenced an education programme were benefiting from improved employment outcomes.
The study looked at people who began BTEA-sponsored courses in 2008 and found they were less likely to have found a job compared to unemployed people who did not avail of the scheme.
BTEA participants who entered a course in September or October 2008 were found to be between 23pc and 38pc less likely to have exited unemployment by June 2012 and between 14pc and 29pc less likely than at the same time in 2014.
The report, which was commissioned by the Department of Social Protection, raises serious questions over the Government's oversight of the scheme.
The report's lead author, Dr Elish Kelly, said the evidence presented "raises concerns about the effectiveness of the BTEA scheme as an employment support programme".
Tánaiste and Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said the scheme will remain in place, but work would have to be done to address the shortcomings.
Ms Burton said six recommendations made in the report were already being implemented by her department.
These include seeking the opinion of the Labour Market Council expert group on ways to adapt the scheme in light of the ESRI's findings.
Ms Burton also said changes had already been made following a review in 2012.
As a result of this review, case officers now also vet applications for the labour market relevance of the course a participant intends to do.
The ESRI report detailed how spending on the scheme trebled between 2007 and 2012, increasing from €64.1m to €199.5m per annum.
In the same period, which coincided with the economic crash, the numbers using the scheme quadrupled from around 6,000 to almost 25,000.
Lead author Dr Kelly said: "The programme does not appear to be effective in terms of its core public policy objective of assisting the unemployed to transition to employment."
Dr Kelly said that there were also concerns that those who remained in education six years after first starting the scheme in 2008 were not actually progressing on to more advanced courses, and were instead doing courses similar to those they initially signed up for.