The recent announcement by Government that it is providing €17 million to expand apprenticeships across the higher education sector is positive, but the sector should not be expanding without the necessary supports, says the Union of Students in Ireland.

USI believes that apprenticeships are an important way of opening up access to third level education to more potential students and should be put on an equal footing with other avenues into third-level education.

However, while USI recognises the importance of providing these places, the union is worried that Government is again following its trend of expanding college places, without the necessary supports for these students in place.

USI Vice President for Academic Affairs, Bryan O’Mahony said: “USI recognises the importance of apprenticeships in our society, and we know there is a strong demand for more and more places on such training programmes. And we absolutely want apprenticeships to be a key part of our third-level system. But it is not fair on the students that will take these places, and their classmates, to again make an announcement of more places, without any mention of increased student supports and accommodation.

“We were glad to see this announcement last week and we want to be able to welcome such moves without any concerns, but that just would not be right. We are in the midst of a student accommodation crisis where more and more students are being forced to defer or drop out and we must call that out whenever we can. A serious focus must be put on ensuring that there is stability in the sector for both students and staff. Not only is there a severe lack of student accommodation, student supports are underfunded and there are high student to staff ratios. This will lead to disappointment for those who come into the sector as it currently stands.

“We cannot just continue to pile on this problem by announcing more places without doing serious work to address the problems we face. The next announcement from government about third-level has to be its student accommodation strategy that we have been expecting since the summer.”