Further and Higher Education: Part-time Learners

Oral Answers to Questions — Economy – in the Northern Ireland Assembly am 2:30 pm ar 3 Mehefin 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Connie Egan Connie Egan Alliance 2:30, 3 Mehefin 2024

T4. Ms Egan asked the Minister, having welcomed him back to the Chamber, what work his Department is doing to support part-time learners in further and higher education. (AQT 334/22-27)

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

There is a range of support packages in those areas. We have to take our lead from the colleges and universities on the numbers. As with all such anticipatory programmes, it is hard to see what the needs will be over the course of the year. We generally manage to supplement the funding for them. A month or two ago, we were able to announce additional money for student hardship support schemes to try to ensure that people can access them. It is a little like the issue with jobs, training and skills in that we have to make part-time courses and part-time entry into the workforce available, because it is a big challenge for people to go immediately from being completely reliant on a benefits or welfare system back into education or from being in a caring role with complete responsibility for children or others in their home back into full-time training or education.

We all have to understand the accessibility issues. Part-time courses need to be available and accessible to people, and people need to be supported in entering them. Similarly, in the world of work, we need to ensure that employers operate part-time, accessible entry levels. While we are working out what our budget will allow us to do in the year ahead, it is something that we provide support for, and we will provide as much as we can.

Photo of Connie Egan Connie Egan Alliance

Thank you, Minister. I am conscious that you mentioned this in your answer, but what support in accessing part-time learning courses can your Department provide specifically for people with disabilities, caring responsibilities or long-term illnesses?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

I am happy to work with the colleges and universities to ensure that they do all that they can to allow people to come into education. They design some of their facilities around the courses that they operate, but they have to be conscious that the people who are furthest from our education system and employment are people who suffer from illnesses or disabilities. They are often the people who end up with the worst elements or conditions of work, and I intend to introduce a good jobs Bill in this mandate to try to address some of those issues. I absolutely accept that, in the first instance, people require access to training. I will continue to work with the colleges and universities to ensure that they understand that they need to make learning as accessible as possible.