Attendance in Irish adult education courses soared in the 1970s, so why are the numbers enrolling falling dramatically?

Every year thousands of Irish adults enrol in part time courses in hundreds of colleges across the county. The courses on offer cover a vast range of topics form cooking to literacy and from car maintenance to the Leaving Certificate.

Adult education courses in Ireland are run under the Vocational Education Committee (VEC) system. Attendances soared in the 1970s but there has been a decline in enrolments in the last number of years.
A survey carried out by the Irish Vocational Education Authority (IVEA) shows from there were 153,000 participants on adult education courses in 1980 and 1981. By 1982 this figure had dropped by 15,000 and this decline looks like it is continuing.

IVEA general secretary Joe Rooney says this dramatic decline is partly due to increasing unemployment which means less money for courses and partly to increasing fees since the Department of Education expects the courses to be self financing.

Joe Rooney is worried about how the Department of Education's instruction to the IVEA to raise fees by 10.5% will affect the enrolment of unemployed people and those wishing to undertake literacy programmes.

Joe Rooney cannot overstate the significance of adult education to the community,

I think it is absolutely vital to the health of our nation as a whole.

His sentiment borne out by two women who have returned to education to undertake the Leaving Certificate. The first women enrolled on the two year course because

I realised I couldn’t understand my sons maths anymore so I decided I had to do something constructive about it and here I am.

The other woman decided to return to learning because

I hadn’t all that much education as a youngster so I thought I’d come back and do it, I’d spare time my family’s grown up now.

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 12 September 1985. The reporter is Conor Fennell.