Sinn Féin spokesperson on Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Mairéad Farrell TD, today welcomed Science Week in the Oireachtas.
The week-long event in Ireland each November celebrates science in our everyday lives, and Deputy Farrell said that, in a week when we celebrate scientific output, we cannot lose focus on the inputs that help bring this about.
She added that a big part of that is funding, and the ongoing failure of the €1.5bn National Training Fund to do what it is intended, namely funding further skills, education and training on a national level, speaks to this.
Teachta Farrell said:
“We only recently had the 2023 National Skills Bulletin, produced by the Solas. It identified skills shortages in science and engineering, ICT, health and social care, construction, other craft, hospitality and transport and logistics.
“At the same time, the size of the National Training Fund continues to grow, having reached €1.5bn, but as it is just being invested in short term Irish exchequer notes, it’s not fulfilling its purpose. This is a lost opportunity at a time when it is badly needed to fund further skills, education and training.
“Almost everyone with a stake in further and higher education, training and skills is dissatisfied with this situation. The University sector, the Irish Universities Association, the American Chamber of Commerce, IBEC, ISME and many others.
“Minister Harris was supposed to have a plan to address this. It was called the Pact for 21st Century Skills. But his plan, much like the fund itself, seems to be stuck in limbo. The latest we have heard is that it has been pushed back to later next year. So we can assume that the fund will continue to sit until he figures out what is the major problem with the legislation, which brought the National Training Fund into existence.
“At the same time, the government budget allocated to research and innovation fell this year. The expenditure estimates show a planned reduction in spend of 3% for research, innovation and science.
“So, if the Minister is going to celebrate science and scientific research whilst at the same time reducing the planned expenditure, then at the very least he can fast-track the reform of the National Training Fund.”