The Irish adult education policy process since 1997: some lessons for the future.
PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.
This thesis examines Irish adult education policy making since 1997 to identify lessons for future development of the sector. It is aimed at adult education stakeholders, policy makers and researchers to provide them with a deeper understanding of adult education policy making so that they can contribute effectively to its future development. I engaged in the research because of the emerging importance of adult education as part of lifelong learning and my professional and personal interest.
The research involved literature review, interviews and a documentary analysis of published and internal departmental adult education policy documents and revealed a fragmented system with a dysfunctional architecture that remained intact despite ten years of intense policy making. The study also highlighted rivalry between the Department of Education and Science (DES) and the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment (DETE) for control over adult education policy as well as a lack of capacity in DES to manage the development of adult education policy. Because of the rivalry, resources have been wasted in adult education since 1997 while stakeholders are disenchanted and many adults with literacy problems cannot avail of tuition. The problems revealed by the research were exacerbated by political failure.
The failures are an outcome of a corporatist approach to policy making and are contributed to by interdepartmental rivalry which can be explained by public choice theory. Political failure was facilitated by Coalition Government which tends to encourage an incremental approach to policy making. In addition the Irish public policy system is complex, multi-layered and operates across different planning cycles and sequences.
The outstanding issues for the future include the capacity of senior management in DETE to manage adult education, nominating a lead department, devising an adequate institutional architecture for adult education and the evaluation of the National Adult Literacy Strategy.
The research provides advocacy groups with a reform agenda and will also contribute to the debate about the reform of the Irish public service.
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