Minister Simon Harris (top), Fidelma Kelly, student; Clara Hewston, student, Deirdre Duffy, Office of the Minister; Senator Joe O’Reilly; (middle) Cllr Clifford Kelly; Bryan Bates, teacher; Jack Kiernan, student; Ashlene Kinnear, teacher; middle row, Deputy Niamh Smyth; Deputy Brendan Smith; John Kearney, Chief Executive, CMETB; (bottom) Ann Marie Lacey, Director, Cavan Institute; Enda O’Reilly, assistant principal, Linda Pinkster, Director of FET, CMETB and Finbarr Lane, Department of FHERIS.

Minister visits college... virtually!

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Skills, Simon Harris, met with staff and students from Cavan Institute earlier this month. Representatives from Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board (CMETB) and elected officials also joined the virtual meeting.

The purpose of the meeting was to hear from students and staff on the ground and to thank the sector for the work achieved in difficult circumstances over the last year.

Minister Harris requested to meet the team at Cavan Institute as part of his national tour of the FET sector, which sees him conduct a virtual visit to one college or centre in each of the 16 ETBs nationwide.

The minister was particularly keen to hear how the Cavan Institute students Jack Kiernan, Fidelma Kelly and Clara Hewston have been coping with their studies during this pandemic year.

Jack indicated that he has now found clarity around what he wants to do in the future, and he paid tribute to the tutors at the Institute whom he stated had “gone above and beyond to support students remotely”.

Ashlene Kinnear, a teacher at the Institute, elaborated on how the Institute has trained and upskilled its teachers to deliver blended learning so that no teacher and no student gets left behind.

Director Ann Marie Lacey thanked the minister for visiting Cavan Institute and pointed out how this Institute, together with Monaghan Institute, demonstrate what the FET college of the future will look like and can achieve.

Both provide all the education options that FET students need, whether for employment or progression. “Our ETB is in a strong position to build a third level footprint within both counties, with the delivery of degree programmes through both Institutes,” said Ms Lacey.

John Kearney, chief executive, CMETB, was commended for his continued efforts to deliver a new college for Cavan Institute. He extended his appreciation at the meeting to the Oireachtas members present for their ongoing support for this project.

Concluding the virtual visit, Cllr Clifford Kelly paid tribute to the team at the Institute and the ETB. He thanked Minister Harris for taking the time to listen to feedback from students and staff, and he extended an invitation to him to visit the new college campus in person when works begin.

Separate to the virtual meeting, Fianna Fáil deputy Niamh Smyth has said it is unacceptable that the new college campus has remained on the building list in excess of eight years.

She raised the issue directly with Minister Harris in the Dáil last week. “Both the principal and deputy principal at Cavan Institute have been relentless in their efforts to attract students, to provide a broad spectrum of courses and to provide a positive learning experience for all those who attend,” she said.

“In the absence of a higher education facility in the Border region, Cavan Institute responded by collaborating with a range of higher education colleges to deliver some of their courses on an outreach basis in Cavan so as to continue to meet the needs of students,” she continued.

Deputy Smyth said, as such, the institute is best placed to become the hub for integrated FE and training services in Cavan.

“However, I understand that the premises no longer meets the needs of students and,without that physical infrastructure in place, this will not be possible,” she remarked.

Deputy Smyth pushed Minister Harris on the need to progress this project.He gave a commitment in the Dáil to progress these matters in the coming months.