Learners say unequal access to public transport, on-site facilities, and inclusivity and mental health supports are causing regional disparities in their experiences.

Adult learners of all ages have reported overwhelmingly positive experiences of further education and training at the launch of the annual report on adult learning in Ireland this week.

The AONTAS ‘Learners’ Voices Across Ireland’ report was launched at their  ‘A Window to the World’ adult education summit at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on November 15.

Addressing the delegates, CEO of AONTAS Dearbháil Lawless said: “There are two principal narratives emerging from this year’s report – that education has a hugely transformative impact on learners’ lives, particularly those returning to education later in life – and that issues around local infrastructure and facilities are creating inequalities and barriers for learners across the country to access, or take full advantage of, those transformative experiences.

“For many people, particularly those from under-resourced communities and groups that face the greatest challenges in accessing quality education, crossing the threshold of a college or training centre is a huge step, and for many even getting to the front door is proving to be the biggest barrier. Without affordable, reliable public transport, people in rural areas and people living in poverty continue to be at a disadvantage in accessing education and training opportunities.”

During the 2022/23 academic term, over 3,000 Further Education and Training (FET) learners participated in focus groups and online surveys nationwide.

Their experiences are shared with Education and Training Boards (ETBs) to inform good practices, and to ensure that learners have a say in their own education.

In addition to public transport, learners also highlighted a need for improvement in language supports, accessibility aids, and onsite facilities such as parking, heating and canteens.

Most commonly reported by adult learners across Ireland were the positive impacts that learning experiences and environments had on their personal health, relationships and prospects.

Also speaking at the event, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris said: “The Learners’ Voices Across Ireland Report is an important research project which gives learners of all ages, backgrounds and areas of FET the opportunity to share their experiences and recommendations in a solutions-focused way. No matter who you are or where you’re from I’m committed to making sure there is access to the educational opportunity that you desire.”

The 2023 Learners’ Voices Across Ireland Report is available at https://www.aontas.com/assets/resources/AONTAS-Research/16064_AONTAS_Learners_Report_WEB.pdf.