Question Time: Minister for Employment and Learning 26 November 2013

Higher education, youth unemployment and apprenticeships were all discussed during questions to the Minister for Employment and Learning.

Dr Farry stated that his "Department will be commencing the review of the maximum student number (MaSN) formula in early 2014. As Members are aware, MaSN is currently used as a means of controlling student support costs and the block grant allocation to the higher education institutions." When challenged by Sandra Overend on whether the Success through Skills — Transforming Futures strategy was a duplicate of the Further Education Means Business (FEMB) strategy, the Minister stated that FEMB will undergo a review during 2014 and that Success through Skills should be seen as the overarching document when it comes to the activity of his Department.

A review of employment law is currently under way and the Minister provided a brief update to members. The Minister also stated that we have already ruled out the Beecroft reform" (which would give the power to employers to sack underperforming staff).

In a response to Pat Sheehan on how people undertaking an apprenticeship are encouraged to start their own business the Minister outlines a range of support available including the European Social fund (ESF) and the Steps to Work programmes.
The Minister also stated that an apprenticeship is a way of providing employers with the quality staff that they require for their businesses to grow and prosper. But "it is worth stressing that apprenticeships are not, per se, a pathway to self-employment".

Paul Givan wanted to know "what measures have been taken to reduce youth unemployment".
The Minister informed the house that:

  • The youth employment scheme provides help to unemployed young people aged 18 to 24 to obtain work experience, develop additional skills and gain employment. To date, 1,038 young people have started the work experience programme, 898 have started the skills development programme and 689 have started employment under the enhanced employer subsidy. 
  • First Start will provide supported employment for 1,700 young people before the start of the 2014-15 financial year. 
  • Almost 18,000 young people have entered employment following participation on the Steps to Work, First Start and youth employment scheme programmes.
Topical questions covered the contribution the Open University provides to the local economy; 
how the higher education sector will continue to thrive; what representations the Minister has received from the Confucius Institute; and the careers system.

You can read the full transcript from question time on our website.

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