Waterford Fianna Fáil TD, Mary Butler said that young people must be empowered, and supported, to attend and stay in higher education.

“Budget 2017 is a great opportunity for the government to say it loud, and say it clear, that it prioritises education.”

“50 years ago this month, visionary Education Minister, Donogh O’Malley announced the introduction of free, universal secondary education. It had a transformative impact on Irish society.”

“We need that same vision for education again, and that must start with ensuring that no young person feels that higher education is beyond them because of financial pressure,” said Butler.

“The short-sighted decision in 2014, by the last Fine Gael government, to abolish student grants for postgraduates has severely damaged the educational opportunities of young people.”

“I’m in no doubt that this has contributed to the high numbers of young people, 17.1% of 15-24 year olds, who remain unemployed,” added Butler.

“It’s simply no longer the case that an undergraduate degree will get you a job. More and more employers want specialists, and that requires a post-graduate qualification.”

“As part of our Confidence and Supply Agreement with Fine Gael, we made emphasised the importance of restoring the postgraduate grants scheme. It’s crucial for so many young people in Waterford.”

“Equally, for those who never got a chance to start higher education, the Back to Education Scheme was a means by which to provide enhanced financial support to adults who want to return to full time education,” added Butler.

“The recent decision to means test the Back to Education Grant is another of the Government’s short sighted decisions. For those wishing to break back into full time education, this is a major barrier. Going back to higher education full time is an extremely expensive decision.”

“We have to remember that those who are likely to apply for the Back to Education grant didn’t get a chance to attend higher education for a number of reasons – lack of financial support, poor social supports, and disadvantaged school environments. They need our support, and the scope of a means-tested system is too limited to take all these factors into account.”

“Now more than ever, we need to invest in our young people. Our country is crying out for an adaptable, educated and agile workforce. We need to invest in their education ,ensure more than access 4th level and get as many of our unemployed re-skilled and retrained as possible,” concluded Butler.