Short-Cycle Higher Education
Branches of Study
Institutes of Technology offer Higher Certificate Courses (Level 6 on the NFQ). Students who successfully complete a 2 Year programme will be awarded a Higher Certificate. A Higher Certificate holder may transfer to a programme on the next level of the Framework of qualifications. There are also 1-year add-on Ordinary Bachelor Degree programmes for holders of the Higher Certificate.
Courses are delivered at this level in Science, Computing, Social Science, Business Engineering, Construction and Hospitality Studies.
The main entry requirement for all higher education is the Leaving Certificate, which is taken at the end of second-level schooling. Most pupils are aged 17 or 18 on leaving school. Because of competition for places, a student leaving school in Ireland and possessing the academic qualifications for entry to a higher education institution is not automatically entitled to a place. The institutions reserve the right to restrict the number of students entering first-year undergraduate courses. Where it is found necessary to limit the number of entrants to a course, places are allocated in order of merit on the basis of points achieved in the final secondary school-leaving examination, the Leaving Certificate. In general, prospective undergraduate students are accepted on the basis of examination performance and are not interviewed by the college in question.
Individual institutions do not hold entrance examinations nor do school reports or interviews form part of the entry procedures for school-leaver applicants. Some institutions hold interviews or entrance examinations for mature applicants.
In courses where numerus clausus does not exist, it is up to the institutes to accept students subject to the availability of space and staff.
Applications for entry to undergraduate courses in universities, colleges of education, institutes of technology and some other institutes of higher education, are processed by the Central Applications Office (CAO), located in Galway.
Applicants submit one application form which allows them to choose up to 10 courses from the higher certificate/ordinary bachelor list and/or up to 10 courses may be chosen from the honours degree list. In both cases, courses must be listed in order of preference. In both cases, courses must be listed in order of preference. The aim of the system is to process applications centrally and to deal with them in an efficient and fair manner. The participating institutions retain the function of making decisions on admissions.
Mature Student Entry
The majority of institutions have developed entry routes and quotas of reserved places for mature students. These are generally defined as applicants to higher education who are over 23 years of age (on the 1 of January in the year of entry), who may not have achieved the same entry requirements as school leavers. Institutions vary in their criteria for mature student admission. General information on entry requirements is available on the Qualifax website which is managed by Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI). The majority of third level institutions require a mature student apply in the first instance through the Central Applications Office. However applicants are also advised to contact the colleges directly to establish if there are any additional admission requirements. In most instances, credit is given for prior work experience, particularly if it has some relevance to the intended course of study. Interviews are held, samples of written work may be sought and some institutions hold entry examinations.
A number of colleges offer pre-entry access/foundation courses to prepare mature learners for entry to tertiary education. Since the launch of a National Framework of Qualifications there has also been increased progression by students with further education awards to higher education. 6.6% of students were accepted on a place in higher education in 2012 on the basis of having applied with a further education qualification. This compares to 2.8% of acceptors in 2007. The National Access Office estimates that at least one third of higher education entrants who apply on the basis of a further education award are mature learners.
There are also increased levels of transfer and progression within higher education by holders of tertiary level certificate or diploma level awards on to degree-level studies. It is worth noting that institutions with quotas for mature students report that in general those students perform well in their studies. The majority of institutions have access offices. Many also have mature student offices and disability support services Learning support centres, counsellors and career guidance personnel act as a support infrastructure for all students while also focusing on the specific needs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, mature students and those with disabilities.
In general terms, tertiary institutions enjoy academic freedom in the design of their curricula. No guidelines exist regarding a minimum common curriculum for tertiary level. Once courses are established academic departments have the authority to adapt and refine them, but major course changes need the approval of internal bodies such as faculties. Periodically, peer reviews of the work of departments take place as part of quality assurance processes, and course content may be subject to change in the light of outcomes of the review process.
Within the IoT sector, a rigorous procedure is also in place, of a different kind, to win approval for new course proposals. As well as gaining the approval of internal institutional bodies, new courses need to satisfy the requirements of Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) and in some circumstances the approval of the HEA.
Thus, while the institutions enjoy a high degree of academic freedom in relation to curricula and course design, this is conducted within control parameters which seek to ensure the quality of what is being proposed, and the legitimacy of need for such courses.
Teaching and learning and successful student completion are at the heart of higher education. Through its funding approach, the HEA provides particular support to these key objectives. Targeted funding has been directed at providing excellence in teaching and learning and support for student retention since 2000 – this was subsumed into the core funding in 2006.
Teaching and learning have always formed the central core of the work of a tertiary education institution in Ireland. However, in the context of mass higher education, more specific attention is being given to promoting improved quality in teaching with a view to improved learning on the part of students. This new emphasis on teaching quality has become very much in evidence in Irish institutions. In the first instance, stress is being laid on increasing the repertoire of teaching styles. Lectures continue to be a staple format, but are increasingly supplemented by a range of other teaching approaches. Thus, seminars, tutorials, case studies, practicals, workshops, demonstrations, role-play, and action research projects now more regularly feature in the teacher-student interaction.
Methodologies tend to vary from discipline to discipline. Because of the large number of students on some courses there needs to be a reliance on the lecture method, supplemented by tutorials and workshops where the larger group may be broken up into smaller units. In 2011/12 the average student-teacher ratio in universities in Ireland was 23:1 and in the institutes of technology is 16:1. Arts, humanities, social science and general science courses tend to have large student numbers which influence the teaching methods employed.
Course structures are being remodelled as Irish institutions change towards course symmetrisation and modularisation. The institutions have prepared to ensure that the shift from the traditional course framework would be achieved satisfactorily. Modularisation and credit transfer are seen as promoting student mobility within and between institutions at home and abroad, facilitating access, facilitating mature and second chance students, and enhancing continuing or recurrent education. Teaching continues to be discipline- or module-based by the particular department with direct responsibility for the course. Courses are taught mainly to cohorts of full-time students on a structured, daily, time-tabled basis. Teaching for part-time courses usually takes place in the evenings, supplemented by some weekend work, or summer courses. Provision for courses on a sandwich basis is, as yet, very limited, but increased modularisation may extend this form of provision.
To a large degree, teachers are free to choose their own teaching methods and styles. While the policies of institutions encourage varied styles of teaching and reward teaching prowess, they do not prescribe methodologies. Most departments will have evolved preferred policies on teaching styles and seek to encourage and promote variety of approach. Teaching staff are expected to implement such policies, but there is no specific obligation on them to do so. Most teachers use audio-visual aids such as the overhead projector, PC Powerpoint or other multimedia in presenting material and tend to prepare their own teaching materials such as handouts, visuals, graphs etc. The latter materials are made available to students free of charge or, if voluminous, at a nominal charge. Students are expected to back-up such materials by purchasing course texts and/or utilising course books in the institution's library. All institutions now have quality promotion officers who organise a great range of staff development courses. Many of these are in the area of methodology, including the integration of ICT into teaching-learning contexts. Each department, on a cyclic basis, is subject to quality assurance exercises, including peer review evaluation. The quality and range of teaching methodology forms a central role in this process, to which students contribute. Prowess in teaching now forms a more important part, than hitherto, for staff promotion. Incentives towards excellence in teaching have also occurred through the introduction of a competitive process of awards for distinguished teaching by many tertiary institutions. Some institutions have also devised teaching-learning charters which set out objectives and guarantees on teaching and learning requirements, for both staff and students.
The more extensive use of information and communication technologies (ICT) is greatly enriching the teaching-learning engagement. Students also benefit from course handbooks/guidelines which set out objectives, course outlines, teaching approaches and modes of assessment. Again the availability of ICT, internet and duplication facilities has been of great benefit to students' learning.
Progression of Students
Normally, students need to be successful in the formal examinations laid down for each year of study to progress to the next stage. In the event of failure in one or more subjects provision exists for repeat examinations. If the end-of-year examinations occur in May-June, it is usually possible to take the repeat examination(s) in the autumn of the same year. The number of repeat attempts permitted varies according to discipline.
Subjects such as modern languages also require success in the oral test(s) as essential for passing final degree examinations. In some programmes, provision occurs for passing by compensation. This means that, for instance, if there were three subjects being studied, students could be regarded as successful if they achieved well in two of them, and did not fall below a certain percentage in the third subject, even if they did not achieve the normal passing grade in that subject.
In many courses, considerable flexibility is allowed for students to satisfactorily complete their courses in an extra time period – for instance, four to six attempts of examinations may be permitted. The increasing availability of modularised courses has introduced more flexibility into student assessment. Students do not necessarily have to take all course modules in sequence. However, due to a possible unavailability of certain modules each year, unsuccessful students may also be delayed in accumulating the required modules.
Most courses are now credit-weighted which also allows more flexibility for transfer between tertiary institutions within Ireland and internationally. Students engaged in part-time courses are usually facilitated by employers with time off for assessment purposes.
Certain courses, involve work-placement in Ireland and/or in another European country. In addition, a developing aspect of student services at third level is a job promotion/contract service. Relations between employer bodies such as Irish Business Employers Council (IBEC) and the universities have become much closer in recent years. University-industry links have become much more integral in higher education. Grants and sponsorship from firms has become much greater than formerly. Many individual firms of a certain type maintain close links with particular departments and faculties. Some firms hold orientation sessions with final year undergraduates in some disciplines. IoTs usually have developed close links with employer bodies in their regions, and some interchange of staff experience takes place. Career guidance personnel tend to have close liaison with employers, and maintain lines of mutual communication between industry and the tertiary institution, to their mutual benefit. There is very little tradition of external employers participating in the assessment of students, but such personnel form part of accrediting committees and peer review teams in areas where this is productive. Representatives of external stakeholders participate in the governing authorities of tertiary institutions and bring perspectives from such agencies to bear on the deliberations of the bodies.
Engagement with enterprise is one of the core pillars of the National Strategy for Higher Education and detailed framework and range of recommendations to ensure the system continues to respond to enterprise needs is being implemented. This includes structured employer surveys and interaction, increased work placement opportunities, staff mobility into enterprise and a renewed focus on generic skills. Progress on the implementation of the Strategy is regularly updated on www.education.ie.
Within the IoT sector, as well as the processing of assessment procedures within institutions, there is also the need to gain the approval of Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI). In the past, there was a strong tradition of end-of-year summative assessments. These have now greatly altered, and while still operating for course elements, they are now supplemented by a range of other assessment modes. These include continuous assessment by means of assignments, projects, extended essays and action research. As well as contributing to the overall assessment of the student, they also allow for formative feedback to students on the strengths and weaknesses of their performance. With the increasing incidence of modular course provision, assessments are undertaken at end of the module, rather than at year-end, as well as accommodating features of continuous assessment. Of course, modes of assessment vary with the nature of different disciplines. For instance, modern language teaching requires oral examinations, sciences require laboratory practicals, and archaeology requires fieldwork assessments.
There is a strong tendency for heavy assessment in Irish tertiary education, in that most course elements are formally assessed in one form or other. The assessment modes, while varied in format lead to an overall quantitative assessment where total marks indicate the level of honours, pass or fail attained by the student. The subject department retains the key academic responsibility for student assessment. This is conducted according to the marks and standards agreed by the institution, and communicated to the student in course documentation. The system of external examiners exists for each department, whereby at the end of the assessment process, approved examiners, external to the institution, conduct a review of the department's assessment gradings and help to resolve problems or divergences of opinion which may exist. Subsequent to this, a board of examiners is convened by the university authority where an overview and appraisal of assessments across the institution take place, and agreement is reached prior to the issuing of students' results. In the case of the IoTs, a representative(s) of Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) is also present for the institutional board of examiners meetings. In all institutions provision for student appeals is made, subject to published procedures.
The awarding bodies for the Higher Certificate Award are Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), DIT and the IoTs.
The Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) enjoys the same degree of academic freedom as the universities in determining its standards, and conferring its academic professional awards.
In the IoT sector, each institute, following agreement of its quality assurance procedures with QQI, validates its own programmes. Additionally each institute, under delegated authority, under the Qualifications Education and Training Act 1999, grants its own awards.
New part time higher education short cycle programmes were developed in Ireland in 2011 under the Springboard initiative in order to meet labour market activation objectives, in particular to offer educational and training opportunities to the unemployed who have qualifications of level 5 or above and who are in danger of structural unemployment. These free part time higher education courses are offered at higher certificate level (Level 6 on NFQ) and offer progression opportunities to degree and post degree programmes. Delivered on a part-time basis, most of these courses are offered through various flexible modes including distance or blended learning. Higher education institutions are guided in their admissions procedures by eligibility criteria related to the employment status of the applicant as well as by their own academic criteria. All programmes are selected on the basis of their relevance to skills areas where there are identified skills shortages and job opportunities as well as the level of engagement with enterprise during their development. Most of the programmes are of one year’s duration and are offered in both public and private higher education institutions.
ICT Skills Conversion Programme
A joint Government-Industry Action Plan, which was launched in 2012, was developed as a direct response to specific ICT skills shortages. The Plan outlines a range of short, medium and long term measures to develop a sustainable domestic supply of high quality ICT graduates.
As part of the Plan, a new ICT Skills Conversion Programmes was introduced to provide graduates from other skill areas with the opportunity to up-skill or re-skill in core computing/programming skills. The programmes which were developed and are being delivered in partnership with industry are designed to equip graduates with core computing and programming skills as well as with a range of specialisations in niche areas of growth potential. The programmes provide for two semesters of 12/13 weeks study and include a 12 week industry placement.
Other short cycle distance learning opportunities in higher education are offered through Open University Ireland, which operates as a private college in Ireland.
Promotion of Lifelong Learning
The functions set out in the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act 1999 define a key, pivotal role for Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI).in the process of the promotion of lifelong learning, and particularly in the promotion and facilitation of access, transfer and progression. The development and establishment of the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) is set in the context of a vision for the recognition of learning and is in line with the broad national and European policy of promoting a lifelong learning society.
The NFQ is based on 10 levels, each of which has a specified level indicator. At each level in the Framework there is one, or more, award-types. It is open to all students who successfully complete a level on the NFQ to progress to a higher level. In doing so it is possible to attain a second cycle degree over a longer period than that of a student entering a 3 year undergraduate programme as a school leaver.
Entry to a programme leading to a Higher Certificate is generally open to school leavers and holders of equivalent qualifications. Courses are delivered at Higher Certificate Level in the Institutes of Technology in Business, Law, Science, Computing, Social Science, Business Engineering, Construction and Hospitality Studies.
Many students on successful completion of a Higher Certificate (Level 6 on the NFQ) can progress onto a I year add-on Ordinary Bachelor Degree (Level 7 on the NFQ) and then onto a further add-on year leading to an Honours Bachelor Degree.
Mature Student Entry
The majority of institutions have developed entry routes and quotas of reserved places for mature students. These are generally defined as applicants to higher education who are over 23 years of age (on the 1 of January in the year of entry), who may not have achieved the same entry requirements as school leavers. Institutions vary in their criteria for mature student admission. General information on entry requirements is available on the Qualifax website which is managed by QQI. The majority of third level institutions require mature students to apply in the first instance through the Central Applications Office. However, applicants are also advised to contact the colleges directly to establish if there are any additional admission requirements. In most instances, credit is given for prior work experience, particularly if it has some relevance to the intended course of study. Interviews are held, samples of written work may be sought and some institutions hold entry examinations.
A number of colleges offer pre-entry access/foundation courses to prepare mature learners for entry to tertiary education. Since the launch of a National Framework of Qualifications there has also been increased progression by students with further education awards to higher education. 6.6% of students were accepted on a place in higher education in 2012 on the basis of having applied with a further education qualification. This compares to 2.8% of acceptors in 2007.