No evidence back to education allowance helps job chances

ESRI study finds scheme actually had negative effect on some employment prospects

Tánaiste Joan Burton: said recommendations to improve the scheme are being implemented. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

Tánaiste Joan Burton: said recommendations to improve the scheme are being implemented. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times


There is no evidence that thousands of unemployed people who availed of the back to education allowance have been able to improve their chances of getting a job, new research shows.

The allowance, a second-chance education scheme which cost the State €160 million last year, is aimed at helping to progress jobless people into employment.

But research by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has found that people who took up courses while unemployed in 2008 had lower levels of employment up to six years later than those who did not.

The findings raise concerns over the effectiveness of the scheme for assisting jobseekers to move into employment.

But they are also likely to lead to questions over the relevance and quality of back to education courses, which are availed of by about 18,000 jobseekers each year. These areas were not covered in the research.

Under the scheme, unemployed people can participate in education while still receiving their jobseekers’ payments. The courses include second and third-level education.

Compared to similarly unemployed people, jobseekers who commenced back to education courses in 2008 were between 23 and 38 per cent less likely to have found jobs four years later. These figures fell to between 14 and 29 per cent six years later.

The results are contained in an ESRI report, An Evaluation of the Back to Education Allowance, commissioned by the Department of Social Protection.

The research also contains troubling findings over the numbers progressing to further education or training.

While it found the scheme boosted participants’ chances of being in education or training between four and six years later, these numbers were quite small.

Of those, over half who continued to stay in education were undertaking a similar course of study to the programme the entered in 2008, as opposed to progressing into more advanced education or training.

Dr Elish Kelly, lead author and research officer at the ESRI, said while there was some evidence that the scheme was successful in redirecting participants to further study or training, the programme did “ not appear to be effective in terms of its core public policy objective of assisting the unemployed to transition to employment.”

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said the scheme has already changed significantly on foot of a review carried out by her department in 2012.

She said case officers now vet all applications for labour market relevance of the intended course of education and payment rates have been standardised with Jobseeker payments. As a result, the number of participants has fallen from 25,000 to 18,000 in recent years.

Ms Burton also said recommendations to improve the scheme - based on the views of employers, jobseekers, trade unions and labour market economists - are being implemented.

“Taxpayers’ money goes to provide the funding for these schemes,” Ms Burton said.

“It’s essential that the Department gets value for the money spent on these schemes and, most important of all, that unemployed jobseekers benefit from these schemes by getting a job.”