A new vocationalism – The emergence of a new Further Education and Training Landscape in Ireland - responding to learner needs
For the first time in Ireland the further education & training sector and the higher education sector have formally come together to address a range of related issues – the first being the issue of access, transfer and progression for learners between to the two sectors.
This paper emerges from research and discursive work of a recently formed network of higher education institutions (HEI’s) and further education and training providers (FET), and State bodies such as SOLAS (National Further Education & Training Authority of Ireland) and QQI (Quality and Qualifications Ireland) meeting together as a working group with the intention of progressing the consultation paper Towards the Development of a New National Plan for Equity Of Access to Higher Education (NAO 2014) the Quality and Qualifications Ireland Strategy Statement 2014-2016 (QQI 2013), the National Strategy for Higher Education 2030 and the SOLAS publication Further Education and Training 2014-2019. All of these policy documents are driven by national need, particularly in relation to the labour market and job activation. However these policies are also driven by the European Community, and CEDEFOP's polices and recommendations. The overall aim of the network is to create and develop a formal network of Further Education and Higher Education providers within the Leinster Pillar II cluster, specifically established for the purpose of collaboration on enhancing access, transfer and progression opportunities across the region.
The network is particularly focused on Section 8 (p106) of the SOLAS strategy for the progression of FE graduates to Higher Education and to have the HEA reach its increase of 10% target for progression from FET to HE by 2016.
The developed world is slowly moving out of the worst economic crisis of our lifetime and this recovery still bears risks. With increasing wealth disparities within developed countries and the migration of refugees fleeing conflict to seek better quality lives, it is becoming clear that in equitable shared economic growth is not enough to foster social progress. Indeed the social cost of inequality is becoming evident through increased economic costs to meet the needs of more than 46 million people out of work in OECD countries and relative poverty affecting millions more (OECD 2014:13). The report Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators note that “In many countries the gap between the richest and the poorest is widening, youth unemployment remains high and access to social services remains elusive for many. The world is looking for ways to spur economic growth in a more inclusive manner” (OECD 2014:13).
To meet these needs a wealth of individualised relationships evolved over time between FET organisations, stakeholders, institutions and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to improve access, transfer and progression for learners seeking pathways to the higher education. There are many instances where individual arrangements between teachers and management of further education and higher education institutions have constructed facilitative pathways for further education graduates of particular standards to progress into higher education. This paper outlines some of these examples of good practice.
This research shows that there is a strong relationship between higher education and further education. However this relationship has not always been based fully on equality. Rather, it is based on a wide and diverse range of reasons including:, the experience of further education teachers who received their professional education in higher education institutions, the increasing demand from students and teachers in further education to find progression pathways for further education graduates and the historically segregated responsibilities of the State in relation to further education provision: for example, the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Education and Skills.
A qualitative design approach was employed with purposefully designed questionnaires and interviews and policy analysis. It is worth noting, further, vocational, adult and community educators would challenge a culture in education which is fixated with numbers, measurement and measureable outcomes, as too much of the life changing impact of further and vocational education is not easily measured in quantitative ways. In a sector which values the qualitative it is significant that the sector is now proving itself equally innovative in measuring the impacts in terms of market and monetary equivalents as other sectors of the economy This being the case the methodology employed by the authors followed a type of methodological pluralism as championed by Feyerabend (1975) and the ontology and epistemology views of research from John Dewey. “We inquire when we question; and we inquire when we seek for whatever will provide an answer to a question asked’ (Dewey, J. 1938, p. 105). The diverse nature of the research group are made up of experienced academics from higher education and further education as well as civil servants with expertise in policy development and strategy in education and training. “Knowledge is not a series of self-consistent theories that converges towards an ideal view; it is rather an ever increasing ocean of mutually incompatible (and perhaps even incommensurable) alternatives, each single theory, each fairy tale, each myth’ Feyerabend, (2006, p.357)
‘Access to higher education is everyone’s issue; therefore consideration needs to be given to exploring strategically, at a national and local level, a Universal Design Approach in a way that results in an improved learning experience for all learners’ (NAO 2014:14) Networks like this need tangible results quickly. In relation to equitable progression from FET to HE there are many "naked emperors” strutting around and there are” fig leaves” everywhere. Through dialogue and stakeholder involvment the Further eucation and trainingsector in Ireland needs to find its own voice and not be determined by the traditional leaving certificate which uses the points system for entry into HE. The research proves that there is concern about the lack of transparency and inconsistency in accessing HE from the FET sector due to the multiplicity of individual arrangements, the paper sugests that any new system proposed should not disadvantage learners further. The emerging evidence is suggesting that FET graduates progress very well into HE because they are more mature and able to perform as well as, or better than, traditional mainstream students. Research in Dublin City University suggests that the FET entrant progression through their Foundation Programme go on to make up the top 5-10% of high achievers in their main undergraduate degree for the duration of their programme. Students transitioning from FE to a second year HE place can make up for the traditional CAO students who drop out to make up to 25% of the second year student body. That suits the HEIs as FETs to HE have a zero to minimal dropout’s rate. Concerns were raised that if the specificity of requirements for HE entry intensifies, then progression narrows and goes against labour market imperatives.
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