Landmark new policy to offer school-leavers alternative route to university

Under the Unified Tertiary Education Policy, students who begin in further education will be able to complete their third-level qualification in higher education

School-leavers will have the opportunity to access higher education by starting in further education colleges, under a landmark new policy announced today.

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris announced the implementation of the Unified Tertiary Education policy, which aims to increase the number of students progressing into higher level colleges who initially enter third level education through further education avenues.

The new policy will include the creation of a National Tertiary Office, which will develop joint further and higher education degree programmes in Ireland. The policy will be advanced in 13 disciplines in the coming year.

The Higher Education Authority of Ireland (HEA) and SOLAS will jointly manage the new project through the new National Tertiary Office

The new office will be governed by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between both organisations.

€2 million was set aside in Budget 2023 for this project.

Speaking today at the launch of the Unified Tertiary Education policy, Minister Harris described the new project as a “game-changer”.

“For decades we have discussed the creation of a unified third level system in Ireland. One in which you are driven by the career you wish, rather than the points you get. This is that vision in action.”

Harris continued: “For September 2023 we will roll out courses where the student will commence their degree in further education and progress to higher education. This will ensure there are alternative routes to the points system. It will reduce dropout rates and crucially, it will ensure we have a system that is driven by the needs of the learners.”

HEA CEO Dr Alan Wall said at the policy’s launch that he was “delighted” to see the new National Tertiary Office come to fruition: “This is something that ourselves in the HEA and our colleagues in SOLAS have been working on for some time, and we believe that it will create clear pathways for students transitioning from Further Education to Higher Education.”

Nessa White, Executive Director of SOLAS, the body which oversees further education and training (FET) in Ireland, noted that the organisation is looking forward to continuing their work to develop this new educational model.

White said: “There are now so many routes for learners to realise their chosen career and educational goals. Enhancing these pathways has long been a key focus of FET and [higher education] in supporting learners to get to where they want to go.”

The HEA is currently recruiting a director to oversee the running of the National Tertiary Office.