Vocational education committees are very big providers of adult education, with a range of both full-time and part-time courses, as well as a huge choice of evening classes.
Through their VTOS schemes, they offer worthwhile opportunities to a section of the population who may believe that they cannot break through the cycle of disadvantage. The bigger VECs also provide adult guidance services to adults attending community or basic education courses in the inner city.
What is a VTOS programme?
VTOS stands for Vocational Training Opportunities Schemes, in other words, fulltime education opportunities for unemployed adults, which give them the opportunity of returning to full-time education without losing benefits.
In order to be eligible for a VTOS scheme, applicants should be aged 21 or over, unemployed for at least six months, and in receipt of social welfare benefit or credit for at least six months, or in receipt of one-parent family allowance, disability allowance or disability benefit.
What does a VTOS scheme involve?
The benefits of the scheme are that you get back into education while still receiving your social welfare benefit or other allowance. In addition, VTOS students will receive an additional €31.80 allowance if they are more that 312 days on unemployment or other allowance.
They will also receive meal and travel allowances, participation in a book loan system and free materials, and they may be eligible for a creche allowance.
What kinds of courses may a VTOS applicant follow?
There is a range of courses, and students should choose the one most appropriate for their own circumstances. These include foundation courses, two year Leaving Certificate courses, one-year Repeat Leaving Certificate courses,and fast-track into technology courses. They may also enrol on post Leaving Certificate courses, subject to either having their Leaving Certificate or suitable work experience.
Where can you find out more about VTOS courses?
From your local vocational education committee (VEC). The range of opportunity will depend on the size of the VEC, with bigger VECs like City of Dublin VEC or Cork City VEC offering more opportunities.
Apart from VTOS courses, unemployed adults may be entitled to retain their benefits while attending a full-time third-level course in a university, institute of technology, or other third-level college. Details of this scheme, the Back to Education Allowance scheme (BETA), are available from the Department of Social, Community and Family affairs office.
Do adults have to pay for college courses?
That depends on the course. Adult students are entitled to free tuition fees in full time undergraduate courses, as long as they are first time undergraduate students. This same ruling applies to all students.
Adults on VTOS schemes or Back to Education Allowance schemes may hold on to their entitlements, and in addition may receive further allowances.
Maintenance grants for full-time study
Mature students are entitled to maintenance grants for full-time, third-level or PLC courses on the same grounds as school leaving students. However, maintenance grants are not adequate to cover the real costs of living during the college term time, and mature students are less likely than standard students to have parents ready to meet the difference.
There are provisions under the maintenance grants schemes for candidates who have previously attended but not successfully completed a fulltime course. They may return to another full-time course following a break of at least five years, and be eligible for maintenance grants again, subject to conditions of eligibility.
Part-time courses are not covered by the free fees scheme, so any participant must pay the cost.
It is possible to offset the cost of some part-time courses against income tax at the standard rate. Costs of part-time courses differ from institution to institution.
Where can I find out more about adult education opportunities?
There are a number of sources including the Adult Education Organiser in your local VEC, the Jobs Facilitator in your local Social Welfare Office, the Placement Officer in your local FAS office, your local Area Based partnership Company, your local Community Development Officer.
Third-level educational institutions also offer programmes; for example, UCD's Adult Education Programme for autumn and spring has just been published.