'Cap' on courses keeps thousands out of college
THOUSANDS of students are being denied access to Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses because of where they live.
And the most deprived of all live in Taoiseach Brian Cowen's native Co Offaly, which has only 50 PLC places compared with 1,216 in Co Cavan, which has a smaller population.
The uneven distribution of places was disclosed at an Oireachtas Education Committee meeting yesterday which heard calls to lift the 'cap' on PLC numbers to cope with rising demand. At present there is official sanction from the Department of Education and Science for 31,688 places nationally but a number of counties are not getting their fair share.
This is mainly because the cap was imposed a number of years ago before some areas developed their programmes and built up their student numbers.
The 'Stand Up for Education' group said PLCs provided students with specific vocational skills which improved their chances of work or progress to further studies.
The best-known courses are in the Ballyfermot College of Further Education where graduates of its animation course have been nominated for Oscar success.
The group's spokeswoman Jackie O'Callaghan said the current restriction on places made no economic, social or educational sense.
In economic terms, the cost of the extra resources necessary to take on new students would be greatly offset by savings otherwise payable in the form of Jobseeker's Allowance, she said.
Research carried out by the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) found that at the start of the current academic year there were, on average, two applicants for every PLC place.
General secretary Peter MacMenamin said the trends were the same in every province and in every town and city.
Figures given by Education Committee member Mary Wallace showed huge variations from county to county.
She said that Co Meath, with a population of 162,831 people, had only 328 places, while Co Louth, with a population of 111,267 had 1,100 places. Co Donegal, with a population of 147,264 had only 205 places.
Co Waterford with a population of 107,961 had approval for 1,023 places, whereas Co Wexford, with a bigger population of 131,749, had 904 in all.
Yesterday's meeting also supported the group's campaign for a targeted investment of 7pc of GDP for education by 2016 and it called for an easing of the moratorium on filling middle management positions in schools.
Fine Gael education spokesman Brian Hayes challenged the TUI over its decision to ban all duties undertaken by assistant principals and special needs teachers who are not replaced.
And Labour's education spokesman Ruairi Quinn called for the transfer of much of the FAS training budget to the Department of Education in the forthcoming shake-up of departments.