Education Guide

New Education Information Guide helps adults to get on course

adult-education-guideSignificant reforms in the further education and training sector should not affect adults accessing education and training, according to Berni Brady, Director of AONTAS, the National Adult Learning Organisation.

AONTAS has just published the latest edition of ‘What Next’ – an Information Guide for adults thinking of returning to education.  The guide contains the most up to date information about education and training opportunities around the country, details on finance and funding, useful contacts and services.

The number of adults in education continues to rise, with well over 300,000 adults opting for a short course for pleasure, or investing in a longer term qualification to improve their employment prospects.  ‘The range of new initiatives such as Springboard adds to the choice available to adult learners, especially those looking for flexible, part time options, ‘said Ms Brady.  However, there has been a slight decrease in the number of adults returning to full time third level education.  ‘This may be due to the availability of other options such as Springboard which is currently offering 6,000 free part time third level education places to adults’ said Ms Brady.  ‘Furthermore, people contacting us indicate that finance is as big an issue for adults considering  third level education as it is for school-leavers’ said Ms Brady.  Numbers accessing the Back to Education Allowance, which allows adults to retain their Social Welfare payments while they complete second level or third level education increased again this year – from 24,999 in April 2012 to 27,830 in April 2013.

The pace of reform underway in further education and training continues, so that the sector can rise to the challenge of unemployment.  ‘There are three structural developments of significance to the sector, said Ms Brady.  On July 1st, the Education and Training Boards opened their doors to the public, replacing the former VECs.  Later this year, SOLAS, the new Further Education and Training Authority will be established.  The Department of Social Protection has also been rolling out new Intreo services in social welfare offices around the country which will offer job seekers with information and advice about education and training.  These changes combined should help the services provide a greater response to the education and training needs of people who are unemployed, and in the long term should result in better services and outcomes for adult learners’ concluded Ms Brady.

Any adult thinking about returning to education who wants to consider their options should contact AONTAS for a free copy of ‘What Next’.  AONTAS has also set up a Freephone Helpline with support from the EU Lifelong Learning Programme.  Contact 1800 303 669 with your query.


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Autumn Evening Classes

Autumn Evening CoursesIt’s that time of year again; gone are the long, lazy days of Summer and instead there’s a chill in the air, the trees are beginning to get their warm, golden highlights and the evenings are drawing in. There’s a certain exciting ‘back to school’ or ‘fresh start’ feeling that comes over most of us in the Autumn, even if our school days are well behind us, so why not seize it and sign up to one of the many evening classes that are available!

Studying in the evening is a great way to pass the cold, dark nights and an excellent opportunity to learn a new skill, language or maybe even develop a hidden talent, as well as make new friends and socialise with like minded people. Attending evening classes allows for learning in a more relaxed and informal environment than college and the class sizes are smaller; meaning that there is more time for one to one interaction between the teacher and the pupils.

Nowadays, there is something for everyone when it comes to evening classes. You can study anything from psychology to painting and everything in between. Evening classes can be purely for leisure and provide an opportunity to express creativity, or they can help to start or develop a career by improving knowledge and skills for certain work and providing an introduction to or further study in an area.

The qualifications you gain from evening classes can really help to build self confidence and enhance your CV when looking for employment. Evening courses, such as the ones provided by FÁS, can be used to up skill for professional development and can also provide certifications on completion. Colleges around the country also offer evening diploma courses in areas such as law, marketing and criminology to name just a few.

Evening courses can be a great ‘taster’ experience for someone who may be interested in changing direction in their career, while still allowing them to work in their current job. They are perfect for people with busy lives as there is a lower level of commitment involved compared to studying full-time in college, with courses generally running once a week for a set period of time.

So check out what evening classes are on offer near you. Take this opportunity to make your ‘fresh start’ by learning what you have always wanted to learn and being who you have always wanted to be.

Colleges Offering Evening Courses – Adult Education Information –

Fiona McBennett

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Student Grant May Be Cut

student grantStudents could be facing a double hit in the upcoming budget in October as the minister for education, Ruairí Quinn, may be cutting student grants as well as increasing the cost of college fees. According to the Sunday Independent, the minister is under pressure to make cuts of up to €106m in his department and cutting the student maintenance grant is one of many plans being considered to save money.

The student contribution (a charge payable to colleges to cover the cost of student facilities and exams) is set to rise by €250 each year for the next three years, bringing it up to €3,000 in 2016. Earlier this year, students took to the streets in Dublin to protest against this rise in college fees. The Union of Students in Ireland has said that an increase in the cost of third-level charges would be “ludicrous” in a time of financial hardship for students and families. Public spending minister, Brian Howlin, has said that the increase is necessary to “help maintain higher education services.”

According to a survey carried out by the Irish League of Credit Unions, the current average monthly cost of attending college is €516 a month, an increase from €484 in 2011. The survey also showed that one in twelve students will have to drop out of college this year due to financial strain, with the average student working 18.5 hours a week to pay their way through college.

Last month Minister Quinn proposed that those applying for a student maintenance grant would be subject to a means test but this is said to have been postponed due to costs and has been replaced with a straight cut to the grant. The college maintenance grant, currently at around €3,000, is paid to approximately 100,000 students each year and is a contribution towards living costs. Currently, depending on their income, some parents are eligible for a full or part grant in respect of the student contribution charge; these proposed cuts mean that parents may be hit twice.

These government plans have coincided with the publication of CAO first round offers and this year, a record number of offers have been made to 57,627 hopeful students. Points for business, science, engineering and technology have all gone up as students aim to secure jobs in the new economy.

College lecturers have warned that the standard of third-level education will be damaged by these continued cuts. The Union of Students in Ireland has promised to fight against the “threat to slash student grants”, its president Joe O’Connor said that, “The government and minister Quinn must be aware that students will not take this lying down, and will take their opposition to the streets, to constituency offices and to the ballot box.”

Fiona McBennett

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CAO Offers and Starting College

cao offersSince August 14th, when the Leaving Certificate results were released, emotions have no doubt been running high all over the country. Whether you are thrilled or disappointed now is the time to get clued up on your options in terms of picking a course as well as getting all the information you need on starting college.

First round offers were made on Monday August 19th and applicants who have filled out both sides of their CAO form and attained sufficient points will be offered two places; one for a level 7/6 course (previously known as diploma courses) and another for a place on a level 8 degree course. These students can only accept one of these offers. The closing date for accepting the first round of offers is August 26th at 5.15pm.

Round two CAO offers arrive by post on August 29th. This means that students, who missed out on their first preference in round one, may be offered a place for a higher preference course if a place becomes available, regardless of whether or not they have accepted a place on another course. If a student feels that their results are unfair, they have the option to view their scripts by returning an application to their school on August 20th. Appealed results are then available by mid-October and if an appeal is successful, the CAO may offer a place to any student who has secured the required points.

Don’t panic if you did not get an offer through the CAO on the first round, you may get an offer in the second round and if not, there are many other options available such as; travelling abroad to study, taking a PLC course, taking a vacant college place (many of which are available in the private college sector) or repeating.

If you get an offer of a place but would like to defer taking it for a year, then you need to get agreement from the appropriate college. All colleges will consider an application for a deferred entry but it is strongly advisable to check with the admissions office of the college you have applied to about the conditions on which a deferral entry might be granted. All communication regarding deferrals must be sent to the appropriate college and not to the CAO. When you are taking up the place the following year, you must then reapply for the course through the CAO and indicate that the place is a deferral by ticking the appropriate box on the application form.

When it comes to college accommodation there are usually two main types if you are living away from home; digs and college residences. Digs are ideal for first years that don’t want the hassle of cooking or cleaning but still want the independence of living away from home. Two main factors to bear in mind are what the landlord/lady is like and also the quality of the accommodation. It’s also worth looking into whether or not you will be sharing a room, if you will be able to study there and if you are able to stay there at weekends.

College residences are ideal for their location and living on campus obviously means you are at the centre of college life and nearer the student bar! It’s worth remembering that because of their handy location, college residences do tend to be more expensive than digs. It’s best to get looking for somewhere as soon as you have accepted a college place and you know where you will be based. While it can be daunting moving away from home for the first time, there will be many other students in the same position as you and it is a great opportunity to make new friends.

Most undergraduate students attending publicly funded third level courses do not have to pay tuition fees. In order to qualify for free fees you must be undertaking a full-time undergraduate course of at least two years duration or shorter courses in certain institutes of technology. You must also be a first time, full-time undergraduate and in general you must not be repeating a year due to failed exams or change of course. There is no application for free fees, your suitability will be determined based on the information you give when you apply for a college place. An annual charge, called a student contribution, is payable to colleges to cover the cost of exams and student services, this can vary from college to college but it is usually no more than €2,500.

Student grants provide financial support to eligible students. There are two elements to the student grant; a maintenance grant and a fee grant. A maintenance grant is a contribution towards living expenses and a fee grant can cover all or part of your tuition fees, all or part of your student contribution and the cost of essential field trips. You may also be able to claim tax relief on tuition fees. Families who pay tuition fees for more than one student in a year can also claim tax relief on the second and subsequent student’s fees.

Starting college is an exciting opportunity to learn, make new friends and have great fun. There are options for everyone no matter what their situation, so take time to decide what’s best for you.

Fiona McBennett

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253 Research Positions Announced

research positionsThe Minister for State for Research and Innovation, Seán Sherlock T.D., has announced that the Irish Research Council will make research awards totaling some €16.8 million. This will support 353 postgraduates and postdoctoral candidates in what is one of the single largest award events for Irish researchers this year.

There were over 1,600 applicants to the schemes and the winning researchers represent the best and the brightest of recent graduates. The funding by the Irish Research Council will provide support for innovative and creative ideas and kick-start research careers.

The Irish Research Council awardees will be funded through a multi annual investment of €16.8 million from the government with a further €2 million being invested by the EU and enterprise partners.

Minister Sherlock said that: “The awards now being made by the Irish Research Council provide significant funding for researchers in a wide range of disciplines in the areas of science, technology and the humanities. This funding supports a new generation of researchers and continues our emphasis on creating a vibrant research community which is essential for Ireland’s future economic growth and reputation as a knowledge society. The progress of our research system is a result of having a strong cohort of highly creative and innovative researchers who will be Ireland’s future leading innovators. Research investments have already had a very positive impact on Ireland’s development and highlights how research, development and innovation can contribute significantly to job creation and economic prosperity”.

Chair of the Irish Research Council Professor, Orla Feely, congratulated the successful candidates, saying: “The standard of applications was extremely high this year. Competition was fierce and the Irish Research Council strove to ensure that the most innovative, creative and excellent people and their projects were chosen for funding. In order to achieve this, over two hundred independent international assessors evaluated the proposals. We wish the awardees the very best with their endeavours and look forward to exciting outcomes.”

The Irish Research Council objective is to support excellent researchers, in particular at postgraduate and early stage postdoctoral levels. It uniquely funds a broad range of disciplines spanning the humanities, social sciences, business, law, sciences, engineering and technology. It encourages interdisciplinary research and engagement with employers and aims to support an expertise-driven research system in order to enhance Ireland’s innovation capacity and skills base in a rapidly changing global environment.

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NEET Levels on the Rise

courses for unemployedA recent report by the OECD, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, showed that there has been an alarming rise in youth unemployment in Ireland. According to this report, 15-29 year olds in Ireland spend less time in education (6.3 years) than their peers in other countries such as Denmark (8.9), Finland (8.4) and Germany (7.7).

The report states that, on average, young people in Ireland will spend more than 3 years unemployed, meaning that a large proportion of young people are at risk of finding themselves neither in employment, education or training (NEET); hampering their future chances of being in the workforce. Up until 2007 NEET levels were stable in Ireland at around 10%, however, when the financial crisis hit in 2008, NEET rates doubled to reach 22% in 2011. The proportion of NEETs is highest in young people in their twenties; with more than a quarter (28.1%) of 25-29 year olds in this position.

The report findings showed that in Ireland, 8.6% of 15-29 year olds who are not in education have been unemployed for more than 6 months, which is almost double the average of most other OECD countries. There is also a gradual departure from schooling after compulsory education is finished; at 17 the rate of enrolment is 97% but at 20 the rate drops to 58%.

Commenting on the report’s findings, TUI General Secretary John Mac Gabhann said the figures were “alarming and demonstrate the need to prioritise increased investment in education so as to ensure that this does not become a generation of long-term unemployment.” Mr Mac Gabhann also said that, “Consideration should therefore be given to how the Irish education system might best meet the needs of students.” The TUI is calling on the government to prioritise education in order to address this rise in youth unemployment and argues that the cuts in education between 2005 and 2010 have a part to play in this current crisis.

There have recently been changes in the education system which aim to tackle the country’s unemployment figures. The government has replaced the country’s 33 VECs (Vocational Education Committees) with 16 ETBs (Education and Training Boards) and soon FÁS is to be replaced by the new education and training authority, SOLAS. The Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn, has said that these changes mark the beginning of a “new era for education and training in Ireland” and he recognised that there is a an urgent need for reskilling and training.

There have been criticisms over the years that FAS has not produced levels of employment expected of it and so SOLAS will certainly be under pressure to improve the current situation. With large numbers of young people unemployed and the number of VECs halved, the ETBs and SOLAS will have a challenging and important role in getting people back into the workforce and, in turn, helping to improve the economic situation in Ireland now and in the future.

Fiona McBennett

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August 2013 E-News Monthly E-Bulletin
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Education News – NEET Levels on The Rise
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A recent report by the OECD, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, showed that there has been an alarming rise in youth unemployment in Ireland. According to this report, 15-29 year olds in Ireland spend less time in education (6.3 years) than their peers in other countries such as Denmark (8.9), Finland (8.4) and Germany (7.7)..
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Marketing and PR – Making Your Mark

sales and marketing coursesThe nature of commerce means that there will always be businesses looking for some form of promotion, so if you choose this career path then it should follow that opportunities for employment will lay in your path. However, it is not as easy as it sounds because the world of marketing and PR can be extremely hard to break into. You have to ensure that you stand out from the crowd. A marketing and PR course is one way to achieve this, but choosing the correct course will be important.

Marketing and PR courses are offered by a large number of institutes nationwide. The two can be offered together or separately, depending on the nature of the course. Most people taking courses like these are best to have at least rudimentary knowledge of both in order to forge a successful career.

In terms of career prospects, finding a job in public relations or marketing can be difficult in the real world and you really have to make an impact on companies and agencies. Having a diploma or degree gives you the formal knowledge that you need to catch their attention. Having samples of previous work and an online presence will also be an advantage. Choosing a course with a work experience option is a good idea as this will show that your skills have been tested (don’t forget to request a reference from your work experience provider). Coupled with samples of work, this will place you in a strong position when it comes to interviews.

Marketing and PR courses Ireland

The majority of marketing and PR courses come in the form of degrees, but are also available as diplomas or higher certificates. There are postgrad diploma’s or master’s degrees available as well if you want to take your education that one step further. The degree option will either last three or four years, with the third year of a four year course being a work experience placement. For those with less time looking for part time and evening course options there are plenty of courses provided by private colleges. These will be especially suited to those already in the field or in related fields and looking to add extra skill sets in this area.

All diploma and degree courses will contain certain modules. The basics would be marketing concepts, marketing environment, public relations, sponsorship, buyer and organisation behaviour, market research, sales forecasting, budgeting, recruitment, marketing and planning at home and abroad, branding, advertising, financial relationships, product planning, the law and crisis management. The courses may indeed include much more, and some of the modules may go under different labels, but each one will teach you the basics of everything you need to know.

The assessment for the individual courses will vary, but there will usually be some sort of practical project. Some may also include written examinations and other pieces of coursework. This may be worth a look because a project will give you more practical experience and provide portfolio material if required.

The colleges below all have a marketing and public relations course available and can provide an excellent start to any research:

1. – Griffith College Dublin – The diploma offered lasts for a year and is designed to offer a foundation for a career. It is a part time evening course, which is perfect for those already working in PR or marketing or wanting a career change.

2. – His Limerick Business School – The diploma course is completed over 24 weeks or 18 for an intensive course and a large chunk of it is online so you can complete it at your own leisure.

3. Waterford Institute of Technology – This is a degree course that incorporates a work placement, thus giving you the complete qualification.

4. – Dublin Institute of Technology – This master’s course incorporates more complex public relations practices and theory, thus taking your career one step further.

5. – Dundalk Institute of Technology – There is a range of marketing and public relations courses here to choose from so you can take you time to look through and choose the right one for you.

View more Marketing and PR courses on at

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Rise in Demand for Business Courses

cao choicesCAO application figures show that there has been a rise in the demand for third-level courses in business and commerce this year, with first preference applications up by 6.5%. The largest rise in student demand has been in agriculture and food courses, with an increase of 10%. Courses that have proved less popular for 2013 are dentistry, veterinary, primary school teaching and pharmacy; which showed a decrease in demand of 17% (this year’s biggest change). The total number of applicants to the CAO for 2013 was 76,120, down slightly from last year’s figure of 76,307.

The overall analysis of the 17 course groupings classified by the CAO show only small changes in application results compared to 2012 meaning that the points requirements should only vary slightly for most of the CAO offers on August 19th.  The number of students that have applied for honours degree courses is up by only 77  compared to last year, which will help to moderate the points also. The number of students seeking places in ordinary degree or higher certificate courses is down by 613.

The large numbers applying for places on the science and mainstream arts courses has shown only small changes in numbers since last year, with arts courses attracting the single largest number of applicants at 17,000. Science has seen a steady rise in demand year after year and this year’s figures show that applications reached 9,500. Demand for engineering and technology courses rose by 3.5% compared to last year and demand for commerce and finance has risen this year by 6.5% with approximately 11,000 applicants.

Dentistry fell by 7%, veterinary by 6%, physiotherapy by 4% and nursing by 2% compared to 2012. There was also a 2.5% drop in student demand for law. It is not a huge surprise that courses related to construction had only 195 students expressing a first preference. Applications for primary school teaching were down by 7.5%, a key factor of this decrease is most likely the difficulty teachers have in getting full-time jobs once fully qualified.

The results from the first choice applications gives a good indication of future trends. Colleges and universities assess these first choice results and use them to plan the number of places they can offer in their courses. Diarmuid Hearty, the President of Griffith College, has said that students are choosing courses that will provide jobs, such as agriculture, finance and IT. He said it was important for students to remember that they shouldn’t be making a decision based on the state of affairs in the country now and that students should be thinking long term, four or five years down the line, when they will be qualified and looking for work.

Fiona McBennett

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Solas to Replace FAS

solas-replaces-fasEarlier this year, Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn, published a new bill stating that SOLAS, An tSeirbhís Oideachais Leanúnaigh agus Scileanna, will be the new education and training authority under the aegis of the Department of Education and Skills. This means that in Autumn of this year, FÁS will be dissolved and the FÁS training division will be transferred to the 16 ETBs (Education and Training Boards) that have recently replaced the 33 VECs. SOLAS also will be responsible for the commissioning and funding of these ETBs.

Speaking recently about the establishment of SOLAS, the Minister said, “I believe that SOLAS will bring a much needed focus to [the Further Education and Training sector] of our education system for the first time.” The Department of Education have said that SOLAS will play a key role in Ireland’s economic recovery through the establishment of a world class Further Education and Training system and that the unemployed, in particular the long-term unemployed, will be the priority group for support.

FÁS was set up in 1988 with the aim to assist those seeking employment. The authority runs a number of job centres, as well as apprenticeships and trainings all across Ireland, however it has faced much criticism over the years due to its cost and also the idea that it is simply a scheme to lower the country’s unemployment statistics. During the boom, it was spending a staggering €1 billion a year of taxpayer’s money and the controversy regarding this was brought to a head in 2008, when the Dáil Public accounts committee began an investigation into FÁS expenditure.

Unfortunately, even after all the money spent, the recruitment perspective of FÁS has not been a success. Statistics have shown that people who completed a FÁS training were less likely to get a job than those who had not. There has also been problems with the duplication of courses, within the PLC sector and between it and the FÁS training system.

At the moment there are 180,000 further education and 75,000 training places provided in FÁS training centres and, while there is the problem of duplication, there are some courses on offer that have been successful, such as personal training and access programmes to university. There are also some successful institutes, such as Ballyfermot College of Further Education, who are known internationally for the quality of their graduates. It will be important that these progressive and successful colleges are supported within the new framework of SOLAS and ETBs.

There will be pressure on SOLAS and the ETBs to make things work. It is more important than ever before that the further education system provides training for the right kind of jobs, as much of Ireland’s current unemployment crisis is due to a lack of qualified workers in key areas with specific skills.

There have been some suggestions in the Irish Independent regarding improvements needed, such as the need to restructure the lengthy and expensive apprenticeship programmes provided by FÁS. In 2008, when the construction industry collapsed, FÁS provided its students, who were in the middle of their four year training, with funding to complete the rest of their apprenticeship in the UK. These students were brought to full qualification in just four months.

The Irish Independent also noted that some of the successful courses, in areas such as catering, were changed into degree programmes in Institutes of Technology and therefore created a shortage of staff in the restaurant and hotel industry and left students who could not meet the entry requirements for the degree courses, without an opportunity to train.

SOLAS needs to be more than just a new name, it needs to be a service that will train someone appropriately to secure them a job in the country. It needs to be a service that will provide the skill set needed for employment, otherwise, its potential to create a successful new work force will be lost and the country could end up facing the same problems further on down the line.

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Education and Training Boards Replace VECs

education training boardsSixteen  Education and Training boards (ETBs) have replaced the  33 Vocational Education Committees (VECs). that previously existed, VECs were established in 1930 by the Vocational Education Act with their original purpose being to provide continuation and technical education to 14 to 16 year olds. Over time the responsibilities of VECs increased particularly in the area of adult education, such as post-primary education and further education. In September 2008, County Dublin VEC opened its first community National School in Porterstown, Dublin 15 and this was the first time the VEC had been involved in primary school education.

VECs also provided second level education to nearly 100,000 students in 247 schools and more than 200,000 adults participated in VEC adult and community education programmes each year. Through local VECs there has been a wide range of learning opportunities available to people who want to improve their qualifications and skills and to those wanting a second educational chance. Courses and training include full-time and part-time adult education programmes, night classes, skills for work programmes and adult literacy services.

As well as taking over the responsibilities of the VECs, ETBs are responsible for SOLAS; a new further education and training authority that replaced FÁS.

The list of ETBs is as follows:

– City of Dublin ETB
– Donegal ETB
– Kerry ETB
– Cork ETB
– Galway and Roscommon ETB
– Limerick and Clare ETB
– Cavan and Monaghan ETB
– Dublin and Dun Laoghaire ETB
– Kildare and Wicklow ETB
– Kilkenny and Carlow ETB
– Laois and Offaly ETB
– Longford and Westmeath ETB
– Louth and Meath ETB
– Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim ETB
– Tipperary ETB
– Waterford and Wexford ETB

With this increase in responsibility of ETBs, there is the obvious question as to whether there will be sufficient support to cover all the areas that the VECs had previously covered. The changes are drastic; Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim are now all sharing one ETB when they used to have one VEC each and Limerick and Clare are now sharing one where there used to be three VECs between them. City of Dublin, Donegal and Kerry are the only headquarters to remain unaffected by the change. The government has estimated that these changes will result in savings of €2.1m annually and only time will tell if these departments can run as effectively as they hope.

Fiona McBennett

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Number of CAO Courses to be Cut

cao changesMajor reforms to the CAO are to be introduced in September 2014 in an attempt to improve the Leaving Certificate and take away some of the pressure of the points race. The first of these changes, proposed by the Irish Universities Association, is the plan to reduce the number of CAO courses to which students can apply. The aim is not to reduce choice, but to allow students to enter college through broader courses before specialising in a specific area. This change, which will take effect in 2017, means that students will put off specialisation until second year of their college course.

The argument is that there are too many specialised courses now for students to choose from. There is currently a massive 1,400 CAO courses compared to 385 in 1991, with a particular increase in honours degree courses, going from 387 courses in 2000 to 950 this year. This growth in specialised courses with limited places has meant that the points requirements have gone up, making it difficult for students to gain a place. Some colleges tend to use these specialised courses as a selling point but students can often find that they are in the same lectures as those who are in more general courses that required lower points. The intention is that by cutting the amount of courses on the CAO list, pressure will be taken off second level students and the quality of teaching will be improved.

Education Minister, Ruairi Quinn, also plans on reducing the marking system from the current 14 specific grades (such as A1, B3, C2 etc), in an attempt to lessen the pressure on students to get the extra five points that define one grade from the other and allow the student to gain advantage. This type of grading has led to pressure on teachers to ‘teach to the test’ instead of allowing for a more generalised and diverse learning experience. The third proposed change is to make the move away from predictability in the Leaving Cert, as currently, students tend to study topics that they are sure will come up due to trends based on past exam papers, again this focuses on exam based learning rather than a deeper and broader education.

These changes will be the first ever to take effect on the CAO system which was founded in 1976. Many have criticised it for limiting people’s access to third level education due to its points based supply and demand system, meaning that each year, many students are forced to repeat their Leaving Certificates in an attempt to get a place on a course. There have also been criticisms that the CAO system is designed around full-time, school leaver entrants rather than taking into account the wider range of students.

However, there are other ways of pursuing further education outside of the CAO system. FÁS is a government body which promotes training and education for everyone; with apprenticeship schemes and community and specialist training programmes. Post leaving certificate courses (PLC) are another popular option for those looking beyond the CAO. They provide a FETAC qualification which is internationally recognised and the courses are usually one to two years in duration. Entry is not based on a points system but a pass in the Leaving Certificate is required. PLC courses offer a wide range of training experiences; everything from qualifications in childcare to business studies are available and there are over 1000 courses available. Some PLC courses such as nursing and engineering, can help you progress to a degree.

Private colleges, such as Griffith College, are another option. They work outside the CAO points system and courses can be applied for directly through the college itself. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that these colleges do require payment of a fee to attend which can range between five and seven thousand a year. There is also the choice of doing an online course, of which there are many to choose from. This requires self-motivation and can be a convenient way to learn without having to go to a college and have face to face lectures. If you would like to attend a university and you are over 23, you can apply as a mature student as many universities reserve a number of spaces each year for mature students. Entry is not based on points but often on your CV, an interview and sometimes, an aptitude test.

It is to be hoped that the new CAO changes will be a progressive step towards a more accurate and stress free transition from second to third level education. In the meantime, as described above, there are other avenues available. So for any students finding themselves short of points for their chosen courses, perhaps these may be the way to go until the CAO implements a more accommodating system for second level graduates.

Fiona McBennett

CAO and third level courses –

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Colleges Offer Free Online Courses

free online coursesTrinity College Dublin and many other top universities around the world are teaming up to offer free online courses. It is part of a growing trend towards large scale online education through massive open online courses, known as MOOCs. These courses are aimed at interactive participation and access via the internet at no cost to the student.

MOOCs originally started around 2008 in various elite colleges in America and now is the first UK multi-institutional provider to offer MOOC courses. FutureLearn has many partnerships with colleges around the UK and now Trinity College Dublin and Australia’s largest university, Monash, have become the first two international collaborations. The British Library and the British Museum along with many more institutions have agreed to collaborate and share expertise in the development of the courses and the first courses are set to begin later this year.

Of course, online education is nothing new, there are thousands of online courses available nowadays, but MOOCs are different in that they are free, open to anyone and there is no limit on places; the largest MOOC to date had 300, 000 participants. MOOCs are being described by many as the biggest development in education for decades; making higher education accessible to anyone, anywhere. They are taught by top academics from some of the best colleges in the world and so students get the benefit of learning from some of the world’s best educators. They can also be used for professional development and can also allow students to explore possible career changes and personal interests.

The global publicity from the courses is beneficial for the colleges too; allowing them to develop their international reputation at a time where there is a constant battle between colleges for students, staff and funding. The timing for Trinity College couldn’t be better as the Obamas only recently visited the college’s Old library during their high profile trip to Ireland.

Typically MOOCs are offered through recorded lectures and there is contact between the students and teachers by email. Students taking the courses generally have access to readings, activities, discussion boards and quizzes and MOOCs are usually assessed by machine graded multiple choice questions and by peer-reviewed written assignments. These courses are not yet accredited by the colleges but some MOOCs are already offering certificates to those who complete their courses and many educational experts feel that it will only be a matter of time before colleges and employers start to take MOOCs more seriously.

While there is great excitement about this new era of internet based higher education, many academics are also sceptical about it. There is a fear that traditional face-to-face teaching will be lost and that ultimately MOOCs could destroy the college experience; replacing the need for professors and lowering the standard of education. It is also possible that MOOCs may not be free in the future as currently they are being funded by the participating colleges and private businesses and as the interest and popularity in MOOCs grows, they may have no choice but to charge learners for their experience.

Whatever your opinion on MOOCs is, there is no denying that internet based learning is rapidly growing in popularity. The convenience and flexibility of doing a course from the comfort of your own home is especially appealing to those who are already working and want to develop their job skills or transition into a new career. It is also great for people who may not live close to colleges and universities as the choice of online courses is limitless and far less restrictive. Working from home also means there is no transportation or accommodation costs either. Online courses can also encourage student participation more than a regular class as often a student’s attendance is based on their participation in online discussions. Online material can also be accessed all day, everyday and so students can easily review lectures and read related material at a time that suits them.

More and more colleges and universities are offering online courses and now with the emergence of MOOCs there is a greater selection than ever before of courses and options for people to study what they feel is best in helping them achieve their academic and personal goals.

Fiona McBennett

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6000 New Springboard Places

springboard coursesAnother 6,000 free part-time higher education places are being made available to provide re-training opportunities for jobseekers. The third Springboard allocation was announced on 21st June by the Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn T.D.

Over 200 Springboard courses will be provided at 38 Institutes of Technology, Universities and privately-run higher education colleges across Ireland for individuals to acquire new skills that are in demand in the economy.

The courses will focus on growth areas such as Information Technology, Communication, International Languages and International Financial Services.  Programmes will also be available to acquire qualifications in areas such as Six Sigma, international selling, business start-up and entrepreneurship skills.

The 6,000 places now on offer represent a €23 million investment by the Department of Education and Skills to equip jobseekers with new skills in sectors with good employment prospects. Courses are free, part-time, and are at certificate, degree and postgraduate level. Applications can now be made on

Announcing the 6,000 free places, Minister Quinn said: “Springboard is providing a dynamic pipeline of job-ready graduates, with up-to-the-minute skills and valuable qualifications for sectors of the Irish economy that are expanding and recruiting.  This practical initiative, which is part of the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs, is tailored to labour-market needs and designed to stimulate economic growth. ”

Over 2,000 job-seekers have successfully returned to work in the past year on completion of a Springboard course. Afurther 3,000 will complete courses this month and are preparing to return to the jobs market with qualifications tailored to high-growth industries.

Springboard’s partnership with an expert panel, that identifies the expertise required in the economy as well as guidance on course content, is key to this programme’s success.

In the third year of the Springboard programme, there is a greater focus on delivering the skills required by growing industries through the content and design of the courses being offered to jobseekers. Over 80 per cent of courses will also offer a work placement for participants.

Chairman of the Higher Education Authority (HEA) John Hennessy, said that Springboard is more than an education initiative; it is driving a culture change within the system.

“The Springboard approach is transforming how we prepare people for the jobs market. Instead of education administrators designing courses in the hope that they make people employable, we start with industry needs. Courses offer the skills-set employers need from graduates, in conjunction with educators”, said Mr Hennessy.

Springboard is managed by the HEA on behalf of the Department. It works in an integrated way with the other strands of the Government’s industry focused skills initiatives (Springboard, Momentum, ICT conversion, Skillnets, JobBridge) that come under the Skills Plus umbrella. .

A Freephone Guidance line 1800 303 523 is available to offer advice on course choices and applications.

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