May 26, 2022

Government Publishes Plans for ‘Unified’ Third Level Education System

The policy platform outlines plans to increase collaboration and interconectedness between further and higher education institutions.

Seán CahillDeputy News Editor
Anna Moran for The University Times

The government has announced its intention to create a more interconnected education and research system, with new policies set out that would allow students and academics to more easily move between further education and training organisations and the university system.

The policy platform was released as part of a series of announcements from the government on the future of higher education in Ireland, after the state’s long-awaited third-level funding framework and research and innovation strategy were both set out this month.

The document stressed that the sector must be “unified”.


“Without progressing a more unified approach it will be difficult to achieve coherent and complementary formative and continuing further education and training, undergraduate, post-graduate, doctoral and post-doctoral education and research”.

The platform aims to offer “more joined up learning and development opportunities to learners and researchers”, removing barriers within the current system where “pathways between sectors are underdeveloped and can be expanded”.

In addition to increasing collaboration between further and higher education institutions, the plan aims to develop the apprenticeship programme and incorporate apprenticeships into the CAO “to encourage lifelong learning”.

Another objective of the platform is to grow equality, diversity and inclusion across further and higher education. The plan promises funding to increase participation from underrepresented groups, the creation of unified regional systems through infrastructure sharing and regional partnerships between educational institutions and a focus on providing individuals with skills needed by society.

The department has also opened an online consultation platform where stakeholders can provide input on the policy proposals.
In a press statement, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said: “One of my key priorities since becoming Minister is to create better pathways between further education and higher education”.

“I want a system, where irrespective of whether a learner enters into further or higher education or a research career, the system responds to their individual talents, ambitions and motivations, ensuring that their every step is a step forward.”

“This will mean further and higher education working together to create joint third-level programmes, higher education colleges ring-fencing more places for students in further education, increasing availability of FET [further education and training] and HE [higher education] part-time and online programmes in skills priority disciplines.”

“It will also mean developing targeted career advice and guidance including online tools with telephone and internet access to experienced guidance practitioners and the strengthening and promotion of a user friendly centralised careers portal.”

“The student must be at the centre of all we do and this work will ensure their pathway is as smooth as possible. This will also help our economy address the significant skills shortages we face”, he added.

The Department of Higher Education will publish a report on actions taken to achieve a more unified third-level system annually.
Actions that will commence this year include the establishment a Tertiary Fund to allow for the development and delivery of joint courses by further and higher education institutions, the publication of unified further and higher education guidelines for blended and online learning and the enhancement of the reputation of qualifications provided under the National Framework of Qualifications.

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