Students caught in FAS farce will have to re-sit exams
STUDENTS who took part in 'dodgy' FAS courses will have to be retrained and re-sit exams before they can get qualifications, the troubled State training agency said last night.
The move comes as up to 1,000 students face delays in receiving certification following a nationwide review of courses run on behalf of FAS by external companies.
The Irish Independent revealed last week how the review found major irregularities in the running of a number of courses, including exam papers being marked incorrectly and possible manipulation of assessments.
Details of the review, contained in a confidential draft report, were outlined to the FAS board by the agency's director general Paul O'Toole at a meeting last night. Mr O'Toole said there were a number of courses where the agency was "not happy" that the assessments "were carried out properly".
"In those cases we will offer those learners the opportunity to be retrained, resit their exams and make sure they have something proper."
Speaking on RTE Radio One, Mr O'Toole also insisted that no one had gotten a certificate to which they were not entitled. He also apologised to students whose certification had been delayed.
However, FAS refused to clarify exactly how many of the 1,000-or-so students facing certification delays would have to be retrained. The agency also declined to answer questions about the training companies involved and whether they would pay the retraining costs.
A spokeswoman said a report may be published following consideration after the matter is considered by the FAS board.
Fine Gael education spokesman Fergus O'Dowd criticised the agency's refusal to clarify the extent of the problem, which had left many students in "qualification limbo".
"The taxpayer must be informed if the process of re-sitting exams will incur a cost for the State," he said.
"The numbers of people involved must be made available immediately so that the people who undertook FAS courses in good faith are informed of what they need to do to receive correct certification."
FAS launched the review, which looked at 301 courses around the country run by private companies, following Irish Independent revelations last October that a tutor doctored results so students could receive pass grades.
As well as two separate reports compiled by its own staff, WRC Economic Consultants were also commissioned to draft a report.
FAS has refused to release those reports under Freedom of Information rules. The agency claimed the release of the documents would impede its investigation of the matter.
Meanwhile, Mr O'Toole said he believed FAS would be given a clean bill of health from the European Commission, which suspended social funding because it was unhappy with the agency's auditing methods.
The commission said last week "serious questions" needed to be answered by FAS over the "paper trail" provided regarding how some course funding was spent.
"We believe we are going to satisfy the inquiries," said Mr O'Toole. FAS had been due to receive €217m in funding from the commission between 2007 and 2013.
Mr O'Toole also hinted that the name of the agency could be changed. Government sources have previously rejected this, saying that it would prove too expensive to rebrand FAS.
However, with the organisation now set to be split between the Department of Education and the Department of Social Protection, the Government may seek a name change to break from the past.