Earlier today AIT signed a cooperation agreement with Co Offaly VEC, a development which represents a new chapter in the history of education in the Midlands. The agreement was witnessed by the Taoiseach, an indication of support for the initiative at the highest level.
Under the agreement both institutions will work together to develop FETAC Level 5 modules that will equip students to progress to third level. In a parallel move, a number of AIT’s part-time courses, as well as the first year of higher certificates will be delivered in Tullamore, Banagher, Kilcormack and Edenderry. Students will transfer to AIT to complete the second year of their course.
The modules and programmes to be delivered under the agreement will be in specialised high skill areas such as IT, science, healthcare, engineering and management. These are areas that have been highlighted by bodies such as Atlantic Corridor, the Midlands Gateway Chamber’s Skills Audit, and in various Expert Body reports as being of vital importance to the future success of our economy.
At the heart of the agreement is a recognition of the needs of learners in the Midlands and a desire to better serve our respective constituencies. It responds to our national ambition to be an innovation island, but more than that it supports a culture of lifelong learning.
The issue of support is a vital one in terms of our relationships with mature students and it is an aspect of the agreement that I am particularly proud of. The experience of the past few years has indicated the enormous contribution that mature students are making to our campuses. Their wisdom and real world-acquired skills have benefited the wider learner population. The cross-fertilisation of experience and youthful enthusiasm is producing higher quality graduates, graduates who will be better able to thrive and succeed in the world of employment.
Yet, we must do more to support, facilitate and encourage non-traditional students to consider educational opportunities. This is all the more urgent given the economic and social pressures that so many people now find themselves under. In this light, education not only offers hope; it re-energises and gives people the ability to regain control over their lives.
Alvin Toffler, the famous American writer and futurologist, has said that ‘the illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.’ I believe that this cooperation agreement will be a means for people in Offaly and the Midlands to continue learning in new and imaginative ways. Here we have a creed as profound as the Three Rs; one suited to the needs of the current age.
The agreement is also significant in strengthening relationships between the Gateway towns of Athlone and Tullamore. Considerable progress has been made in developing the infrastructure, enterprise environment and quality of life proposition of the Midlands Gateway. The region is competing strongly for inward investment, as well as being an attractive location for indigenous industry. Central to its value proposition is an education and innovation support base that serves the needs of the local population and enables the area to compete on a national and international basis. Today’s agreement strengthens that offering.