A new integrated agency Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) was established on November 6th 2012. This agency effectively replaced awarding bodies National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI), Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC), and Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC), which are now dissolved. The new agency will also incorporate the functionality of Irish Universities Quality Board (IUQB). Awards given by these former agencies will still be recognised as they are on the current National Framework of Qualifications.
Quality and Qualifications Ireland was brought about under the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012. The change means all quality assurance and awards are administered under one umbrella body that will also have responsibility for new statutory requirements in particular areas.
The new body, QQI is still at an early development stage and as progress is made, it will be reported transparently on its website. For providers of training and other interested parties, there will be many questions raised regarding the implications of this new body and some of these questions have been pre-empted and answered on the QQI website. QQI will work with existing providers of education and training in order to provide even greater opportunities for students to become involved in continuous high quality education in Ireland.
In the interim period while QQI are developing new standards, processes and methods, awards based on existing standards of the bodies to be replaced will continue but all logos used by these parties are now withdrawn. Instead, a variation will be used that has been revised by QQI until such a time as QQI brand identity has been fully established.
A recent round of applications via the Public Appointments Service (PAS) to sit on the boards of higher education bodies resulted in only five members of the public being elected out of 190 vacancies.
Sixty applicants through the public system to sit on the QQI board resulted in only three chosen from 81 applicants. Minister Quinn selected many candidates that had political affiliations. Those appointed included Joanne Harmon, education manager with the Health and Safety Authority and a former youth officer of Fine Gael, Jim Moore, a Fine Gael councillor for Co Wexford, along with Dr Margaret Cullen and Chairman Gordon Clark.
What Does This Mean To Students And Course Providers?
For students currently enrolled on any training programmes leading to one of the awards now administered by QQI, there will be no real change, only that the award will now be made by QQI instead of FETAC. The only difference will be a slightly different logo on the award certificate.
Providers of courses and training programmes will need to keep up to speed with the changes and service arrangements being rolled out by QQI, which includes those that were offered by HETAC, FETAC, NQAI, and IUQB previously. However, all registered providers of courses will receive updates by email contained in a periodic e-zine.
The establishment of QQI is part of a wider process where great changes are happening in training and education, which can only be a good thing for the future recovery of the economy and for those for who education was not easily accessible. Inclusive education combined with the emerging employment vacancies in new sectors will also mean the right courses at the right time will need to be available when industry demands dictate this. In future up skilling will need to be fast tracked so education providers will have to be responsive to the market needs. It will be interesting times ahead for the further and higher education sector.
Other Changes in the Higher and Further Education Sectors
• Thirty-three existing Vocational Education Committees (VECs) will be restructured into 16 local Education and Training Boards.
• SOLAS (Seirbhísí Oideachais Leanunaigh agus Scileanna) is currently under establishment as the new Further Education and Training (FET) authority. Under the Department of Education and Skills (DES), it will be a body responsible for both the funding and coordination of FET. The SOLAS mandate will ensure the unemployed are offered the training opportunities necessary to return to employment.
• Technological universities are combining existing technological campuses to form centres of technological excellence to streamline and reduce duplication of courses.
With the positive restructuring of Higher and Further Education and the ability to respond to industry needs, the future could be brighter for Irish graduates and job seekers when these new changes come into effect.