For the Government to overturn the decision in Budget 2014 to impose the new pro-rata Student Contribution and reinstate the State contribution to remove apprenticeship fees.

The decision taken in Budget 2014 to impose a new pro-rata Student Contribution fee and for SOLAS to cease making payment to the Institutes of Technology of 70% of the fee is a burden on student apprentices. The decision should be reversed in order to foster the growth of apprenticeships and reach targets set out by the Department of Education and Skills . Institutes of Technology levied the student contribution in respect of apprentices since 2004, with FÁS and SOLAS paying up to 70% of the contribution and apprentices paying the remainder before the introduction of the new pro-rata Student Contribution fee of €1,000 per annum.

The Programme for Government (p. 47) states that in partnership with the Apprenticeship Council and industry the Government will double the number of apprenticeships to provide a total of 31,000 places by 2020 through an annual call for new 47 proposals and will target over 100 different apprenticeship schemes spread across sectors of the economy and in every region in Ireland.  Annual registrations increased by 40% from 2013 to 2014 with a further increase of 17% in 2015 bringing to the total number of apprentices to 3,153 and is forecasted to grow to 5,089 by 2018.

The publication of the Review of Apprenticeship Training in Ireland (p. 90) discussed that “many countries are newly adopting apprenticeship systems based on dual modes of learning, combining workplace learning in an enterprise with classroom teaching in an education or training setting”. This focus on the importance of work-based learning and apprenticeships is important for the Youth Guarantee (2015).

The European Commission has confirmed that the Department of Education and Skills is in a position to obtain a portion of the Youth Employment Initiative Funds (with a reservation of €68m for Ireland) to cover the fees currently being charged to apprentices. USI believe that no plans to abolish either the PLC participant charge or the Annual Student Contribution for apprentices despite the reservations available would hinder the expected growth of apprenticeships and will cause the Department for Education and Skills to fail in reaching its target of 50,000 people registered. Apprentices undertake two phases of apprenticeships training in Institutes of Technology with the average cost per student of the Annual Student Contribution fee being €1,000 per annum.

In Germany modest annual tuition fees of €1,000 introduced in some states over the past eight years prompted an angry backlash and led to fierce nationwide protests. Tuition fees were subsequently phased out and were completely abolished by the start of the 2014-15 academic year. The success of apprenticeships is due to the German economy currently being vibrant and the recognition of higher education’s public returns and benefits. With the lowest youth unemployment rate in Europe, Germany’s dual VET system is highly recognised abroad. Germany’s apprenticeship system provides 344 certified trained occupations, designed by the government and industry. Almost 90% of large companies employ apprentices with about 455,000 companies take part in vocational education training and more than every fifth German company employs apprentices.