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Home » Education » Research reveals high-cost barriers to adult education in Ireland

Dearbháil Lawless


Adult education opportunities must be a realistic option, with essential conditions in place. People can’t learn without basics like housing, heat, food, mental health, childcare and transport.

AONTAS research has found that high costs are preventing people from returning to education in Ireland. People are being left behind in our education system; this is contributing to inequality because those with lower levels of formal qualification are more likely to be at risk of poverty.

Financial support gaps in adult education

Almost 1 in 3 Irish adults recommend increased financial support to get back into education, according to our survey. However, many more people are living in poverty in Ireland who lack education access, can’t participate in research and remain unheard.

Statistically, more people from working-class communities are likely to return to education through Further Education and Training (FET). According to Indecon, the same supports aren’t available compared to higher education. Existing FET supports often come with specific conditions that exclude people, with no clarity on what is available or how to access them.

About 30% of adult learners we surveyed
say more financial supports are needed.

Disparities in social welfare payments

This September, AONTAS will launch a national campaign called ‘Holding You Back’ to increase public awareness on key issues including social welfare payments; allowances for accommodation, food, and travel; and clarity over rules for FET funding.

Social welfare payment disparities have been raised in recent budgets, but the issue continues. To qualify for financial supports, FET learners typically must be receiving social welfare payments. Our research shows that this is a barrier for learners; one participant stated: ‘I am supposed to sign on, so I can be actively seeking work even though I’m going to be returning to education. The process makes no sense.’

The Central Statistics Office survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) also shows that most weekly social welfare payments are below the poverty line. Payments should meet or exceed the poverty line, and social welfare must be separated from FET financial supports. Otherwise, efforts to facilitate learning reinforce existing inequalities.

‘Holding You Back’ will show why greater investment in adult learners means a more equal society. Education should be for everyone, and Ireland would be better for it.

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