Friday 23 February 2018

Debacle casts shadow over state training agency

Shane Phelan Investigative Correspondent

SIX months after former Education Minister Mary Coughlan announced that FAS was to be replaced with a new "freshly mandated" state training agency, the future of the troubled organisation is still up in the air.

The process of splitting up FAS had already begun before the general election, and its functions are now divided between the Department of Education and the Department of Social Protection.

Under the current plan, FAS, or the entity that replaces it, will concentrate predominantly on being a slimmed-down training body.

Other functions it currently carries out, such as employment and community employment programmes, will be hived off to the Department of Social Protection.

However, it is by no means certain that the new Fine Gael/Labour coalition will stick to this roadmap.

High-level discussions on the future of FAS took place during the past week involving Education Minister Ruairi Quinn and FAS director general Paul O'Toole.

While no firm decisions were taken, it is clear the minister wants to examine a number of options. One possible deviation from the current plan could come in the area of apprenticeships.

Taking apprenticeship training off FAS and giving the function to the institutes of technology is likely to be considered. If this were to happen, FAS would be predominantly left with skills training and training for the unemployed.

The position should become clearer by the time the Government announces its jobs initiative on or around May 10. The only certainty is that the name FAS will be consigned to history.

This will be no bad thing considering the various spending and training scandals that have dogged the agency in recent years.

Serious as the controversies over lavish spending on foreign travel and questionable procurement practices were, it was the scandals that followed which did even more damage.

Revelations of tutors manipulating assessments so students could pass exams and evidence of other training irregularities hit right to the heart of the organisation.

The worry now is that the FAS brand is irreparably damaged, both at home and abroad.

Any new agency will have its work cut out salvaging a now tarnished reputation.

Irish Independent

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