The Republic of Ireland has launched its first ever strategy for further education and training. The five-year plan is part of the Irish government's efforts to create a world-class system that will aid the country's economic recovery.
A recent report highlights a number of weaknesses in a system that, unlike most European countries, has had no national direction, planning or governance. It is also more fragmented and less focused around vocational labour market demand.
The Irish government has already streamlined FE by replacing the country's 33 vocational education committees with 16 education and training boards, and creating a national body called Solas to coordinate and fund FE and training.
The new strategy has five main goals: to help economic development by improving skill levels; to include people of all abilities; to provide high-quality programmes that meet international standards; to plan and fund provision based on need and evidence; and to improve the standing of FE.
Speaking at the launch event in Dublin, education minister Ruair Quinn said: "This is an ambitious strategy that seeks to rebuild the entire further education and training sector. This is a big challenge, but one that is timely and necessary. There is no single area as important to the very texture and fabric of our society as ensuring that our people are able to find work."
This year Ireland will spend ?826 million (pound;673 million) to support FE, and additional funding is expected to be required.