Unified Tertiary System


In completing the recent stakeholder survey for the mid-term review of the Further Education and Training Strategy 2020-2024 , the INOU noted that “It will be important that as Ireland rolls out an unified tertiary system, that FET itself is valued and not just perceived as an additional stepping stone into higher education. FET is an important access point to lifelong learning for people, some of whom may wish to enhance their life skills, others their employment prospects.”

According to the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science’s website, a unified tertiary system policy is one that would facilitate further education and training, higher education, and research and innovation to work more closely together.

The vision outline in the document published by the Department in May 2022, entitled "Policy Platform: Progressing A Unified Tertiary System for Learning, Skills and Knowledge” , is as follows:

The vision is for a well-functioning, unified tertiary system for knowledge and skills, composed of complementary further education and training, higher education and  research and innovation sectors, characterised by:

  • Diverse and aligned learning and development opportunities across a broad spectrum
  • Clear and extensive pathways for students, learners, researchers and innovators
  • Expansive skills and qualifications frameworks aligned to current and future skills needs
  • The creation and wider diffusion of new knowledge, skills and innovation
  • Resilience and preparedness for future change and the challenges that may present (e.g. technological advances, EDI, climate change)
  • Comprehensive regional and national systems that are coherent and balanced in meeting these objectives
  • Coherent and balanced policies, investment, support and resources

Five key policy messages were identified:

  1. Building on a Strong Foundation including
    • It is intended to build on individual strengths of sectors whilst also maintaining and developing further the inherent diversity across the system, in line with the needs of learners, researchers and other stakeholders. (p9)
  2. Clear Scope for Change including
    • There is a growing need for more diverse and accessible opportunities for learning and development and to ensure that these opportunities are well joined up so as to facilitate progression and specialisation across the system. (p9)
  3. Objectives of a More Unified System including
    • A shared understanding of a unified but diverse tertiary system of education, skills, research and innovation that can meet the wide-ranging and distinct educational needs of individuals whereby every opportunity and pathway is valued equally in terms of the opportunity for learning and development that it offers. (p10)
  4. Implementation and Monitoring including
    • The platform to achieving this policy objective will be iterative and will require strong levels of participation from sectors and stakeholders working with the Department to provide the necessary leadership and support. (p11)
  5. A Co-creative Endeavour including
    • Key information sources and ways of measuring progress will also be developed and co-created through dialogue and feedback. (p12)

On page seventeen of the document, the objectives of a more unified system are identified as:

  1. To offer a wide range of more joined up learning and development opportunities to learners and researchers
  2. To develop more inclusive cultures to grow equality, diversity and inclusion
  3. To enable the system to adapt to change
  4. To create more unified regional systems
  5. To provide for the skills, knowledge and talent needs of individuals, the economy and society

In July 2023 the Department published “Evidence Base for the Tertiary Sector: 2023-2024 Research Priorities” and on page eight it notes that “The higher and further education sector is a valuable instrument in promoting equality, diversity and social cohesion. Creating an inclusive system, which reflects the diversity across Irish society and offers opportunities to learners from all walks and stages of life is a core tenet of the department’s strategy.”

Under the heading of Skills they note that “The OECD Skills Strategy Ireland: Assessment and Recommendations report was launched on the 9th May 2023 to inform whether, and how, the National Skills Strategy (NSS) 2025 might need to be adapted to ensure that it remains fit for purpose in a changing world.” (p9) The INOU discussed this publication in our last e-bulletin in the article linked here.