‘Brexit effect’ causing college applications from other EU states to double – Harris

Minister admits ‘failure of State’ that one in eight adults lacks basic reading skills

One in eight adults in Ireland lacks basic reading skills and one in five struggles with numbers, according to Minister for Further Education Simon Harris, who said this was a "failure of State and public services" rather than the individuals.

The Minister also told the Dáil that the “Brexit effect” is probably the reason the number of applicants to Irish universities from other EU countries has doubled when compared with last year. However, he said “an awful lot of people who apply from abroad do not actually end up taking up places”.

Referring to what he called the “Covid effect”, he said there has also been a “significant increase” in the number of mature applicants who want to return to education.

During a debate on the role of the new Department of Further and Higher Education, Mr Harris said he would publish a 10-year strategy next month aimed at improving adult literacy, numeracy and digital skills.


“People are getting locked out of participation in society and the economy due to an inability to read, to write, to understand their ESB bill and to look after their own health needs in terms of health literacy and digital skills,” he said.


Minister of State Niall Collins said the strategy was being developed by State agency Solas, which manages a range of further education and training programmes. It would provide a framework to streamline the substantial work being done to "deliver better literacy, numeracy and digital skills in the adult population", the Dáil heard.

Mr Harris earlier this week launched its first strategy statement which outlines a three-year plan for “some of our priorities”.

He stressed the need for an integrated higher and further education system including an overhaul of the apprenticeship system to increase the number of registered apprentices to 10,000 a year from 2025.

The Minister expressed concern about gender equality in apprenticeships and he said he received a briefing note recently that said there were 26 female apprentices in Ireland in 2015.

“I genuinely thought it was a typo and I thought we were missing at least one or two zeros,” he said, adding that the number had risen to 1,000 out of a total of some 7,000 apprentices.

“There is a real chance to build a robust apprenticeship system that will work for businesses, big and small, and, crucially, work for citizens in getting where they want to be.”

Referring to the Leaving Certificate Central Applications Office (CAO) system he said €18 million in extra funding has been allocated to deliver 4,100 additional college places this year.

Sinn Féin higher education spokeswoman Rose Conway-Walsh hit out at the policy where people with disabilities have been forced to choose between academic scholarships and disability payments.

The Government has pledged to remove this anomaly and Ms Walsh said there should be retrospective payment to affected students.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times