Education Options


Thousands of adults have successfully returned to education and training to learn new skills, develop existing abilities and improve their chances of getting the job they want.

There are a range of training and education opportunities available to unemployed people. You can take up education or training while keeping your payment.


Back to Education Allowance (BTEA)

The Department of Social Protection administers the Back to Education Allowance. The approved full time education course must lead to a higher qualification on the National Framework Qualifications (NFQ) other than that already held. 

There are two education options available.

  • Second level option
  • Third level option

Second Level Option (SLO)

You can attend a second level course of education at any community, comprehensive, secondary or vocational school, with which the Department of Education has a funding relationship.

The course must be full-time and lead to a certificate recognised by the Department of Education  or approved by QQI (formerly FETAC), e.g. Junior Cert., Leaving Cert., Post Leaving Cert or foundation/access courses at Universities or Institutes of Technology or a City and Guilds Certificate.

Third Level Option (TLO)

You can attend a third level course of education at any university, third level college or institution, provided that the course is a full-time day course of study and is approved.

A single Student Grant Scheme replaced the 4 main support schemes for students. Student grants are divided into maintenance grants, fee grants and the postgraduate contribution. A maintenance grant is a contribution towards the student’s living costs. A fee grant can cover all or part of a student’s tuition fees (unless covered by the Free Fees Scheme).

There is detailed information on the range of grants and funds for students in further and higher education on the website

Payment on the BTEA

The Back to Education Allowance will only be paid for the 9-month academic year for those in receipt of Jobseekers payments. It is NOT payable for the 3- month summer period between academic years. BTEA participants who are unable to find employment during the summer period may be entitled to claim a jobseeker payment. They will be required to satisfy the normal qualifying conditions.

Pandemic Unemployment Payment

The Government announced under the July Jobs Stimulus that access to the Back to Education Allowance will be extended to people getting the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP).

Ordinarily, you must be getting a qualifying social welfare payment for a minimum period before applying for BTEA (depending on your course level). This requirement has been waived for recipients of PUP.

If you are getting PUP and wish to apply for Back to Education Allowance, you must transfer to a Jobseeker’s payment (or other qualifying payment). Your rate of Back to Education Allowance payment will be linked to your qualifying social welfare rate of payment.

Other Payments

People getting a Back to Education Allowance cannot work full-time and are not eligible for Community Employment, Social Economy Programme, Tús, Rural Social Scheme, any other FET or Fáilte Ireland training programmes, Part-time Job Incentive Scheme or any other employment or training scheme or programme operated by the National Learning Network.

People getting a Back to Education Allowance are not eligible for Working Family Payment (WFP).

Who is eligible for the Back to Education Allowance?

You will be eligible for the Back to Education Allowance if you are:

  • Aged 21 or over and in receipt of one of the qualifying payments, or
  • Aged 18 or over and in receipt of a (specified) disability payment, or
  • Aged between 18 and 21 years of age and out of formal education for at least two years,


  • Awarded Statutory Redundancy payment and are entitled to one of the qualifying Social Welfare payments

Assessment of Income from part-time Employment

Since the 2016/2017 academic year, people getting BTEA who take up work during the academic year will be assessed under the rules (including means assessment) that apply to their primary payment - the payment they qualified for BTEA from. This only applies to new applicants or people who return to BTEA after a break.

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How to apply for a student grant

Existing Applicants

Students who are currently in receipt of a student grant and who are progressing to the next year of the same course will continue to be assessed and paid by the existing awarding authorities.

Changing Course/New Course

Students who are changing course or progressing to a new course, including an add-on course, will need to apply through the SUSI system, see new applicants below.

New Applicants

All applications will be made online to a single awarding authority, SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland), through the website.

Following an initial assessment of your application, if eligible, you will receive by post notification of provisional grant approval and a personalised list of the supporting documents you will need to return to complete your application.

Completed documentary evidence packs (photocopies of the documents, not originals) should be returned as soon as possible in the envelope provided to you.

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Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS)

VTOS is a second chance education initiative designed specifically for the unemployed. It is funded by the Department of Education through SOLAS and operated by 16 Education and Training Boards (ETBs). To be eligible to participate on a VTOS you must be:

  • aged 21 or over and
  • In receipt of Jobseeker’s Benefit/Jobseeker’s Allowance, Illness Benefit (subject to the approval of the Department) One-Parent Family Payment, Invalidity Pension or Disability Allowance for 6 months
  • Signing for PRSI ‘Credits’ for at least 6 months
  • The spouse/partner of somebody claiming one of these payments for 6 months
  • In receipt of Carer’s Allowance having ceased caring responsibilities
  • A person who received statutory redundancy but who has not been in receipt of a qualifying payment for the required period
  • Time spent on an approved training course or CE scheme can count towards the six-month qualifying period. Periods spent on Job Initiative, Youthreach programmes or time spent in prison can count towards this six-month qualifying period, but a person must be getting one of the relevant Social Welfare payments before starting the programme
  • People in receipt of the following categories of payments are also eligible to join provided they are at least 21 years of age and have not been engaged in paid work for at least six months: One-Parent Family Payment, Blind Person’s Pension; Deserted Wife’s Allowance / Benefit; Widow / Widower’s Contributory / Non-Contributory Pension; Prisoner’s Wife’s Allowance.
  • If you receive a Rent Supplement and take up part-time work while on VTOS, Rent Supplement Assessment rules will apply, i.e. disregard the first €75 of income from employment and then disregard 25% of the remaining balance. Any income left after this 25% disregard is counted against your rent/mortgage interest supplement. If you receive the additional allowance of €20.00 on VTOS and take up part-time work, the Rent Supplement earnings disregard of €75.00 will be reduced from €75.00 to €55.00


People on VTOS and Youthreach may be able to access subsidised childcare under the Childcare Education and Training Scheme (CETS) provided by the new Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth

. Contact your local Education and Training Board (ETB) or Childcare Committee for more information.

Studying on VTOS

Programmes offered under VTOS are education-led, vocationally-oriented and progression-focused. The programmes give participants the opportunity of:

  • raising their education levels
  • gaining certification with the National Framework of Qualifications
  • developing knowledge and skills relevant to the workplace, and
  • progressing to employment or to further education or training leading to employment.

The range of learning opportunities provided by VTOS centres include:

  • Junior Certificate
  • Leaving Certificate and
  • Courses leading to QQI (formerly FETAC) and equivalent awards at Levels 3 to 5 on the National Framework of Qualifications.

A variety of subject areas is offered at Junior and Leaving Certificate levels. Vocational designations covered in the QQI (formerly FETAC) awards are chosen from a wide range of designations, including new technologies, commerce, media, engineering, administration, theatre, arts craft and design.

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Payment on VTOS

Persons in receipt of Jobseeker's Allowance or Jobseeker's Benefit receive a weekly training allowance equivalent to the maximum personal rate of Jobseeker's Benefit. Any means which have been assessed are disregarded.

Also, increases in respect of qualified adult and child dependents continue to be paid while there is an underlying entitlement to such increases on Jobseeker's Allowance or Jobseeker's Benefit.

Generally, your entitlement to a VTOS training allowance will not be reassessed if there is a change to your circumstances (including means).

Training allowance and work

If you are returning to your course for a second year, you will continue to get your VTOS allowance during the summer months. You can also take up full-time work during the summer months and your VTOS payment is not affected.

Training allowance and dependants 

If you want a dependant adult or child added to your payment you must notify the Department of Social Protection (DSP). DSP will then notify the ETB of any changes to your VTOS training allowance.

Other Social Welfare Payments

If you are getting one of the other eligible Social Welfare payments you will continue to get your payment in the normal way. You must continue to meet the conditions of your payment.

If you are on a reduced means-tested payment it will be increased to the maximum amount for your situation while you are participating on VTOS. You will also continue to get your Social Welfare secondary benefits.

How to apply

  • Contact your local Education and Training Board (ETB), AEGI, local LES or your local Library
  • VTOS courses usually begin in September/October, but it may be possible to start at other times.

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Back to Education Initiative (BTEI)

The Back to Education Initiative provides for an expansion of flexible part-time options across Further Education. Its priority is to increase the participation of young people and adults with less than upper second level education in a range of part-time accredited learning opportunities leading to awards on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) to facilitate their access, transfer and progression to other education/employment pathways.

The programme’s aim is to give adults who wish to return to education an opportunity to combine their return to learning with family, work and other responsibilities. It offers Post Leaving Certificate, VTOS and Youthreach programmes on a part-time basis. Courses are free for any adult with a less than upper second level education.

Courses offered can include subjects in the Junior or Leaving Certificate and a wide range of modules such as Communications, Personal Development, Business, Computing, Childcare, Arts and Craft, Tourism, Catering, Sport and Leisure etc. For information contact the Adult Education Officer, Community Education Facilitator or Adult Guidance Information Officer at your local Education and Training Board (ETB).

If you are getting a Social Welfare payment, you may keep your payment and participate in BTEI as long as you continue to satisfy the conditions attached to your payment. If you are getting a jobseekers payment you will need to apply for the Part-Time Education Option.

Adult Literacy

The Adult Literacy scheme is funded by the Department of Education through SOLAS and delivered by local Education and Training Boards (ETB) nationwide. It focuses on those with low levels of literacy skills and includes English language tuition for adult immigrants and basic education services.

Adult literacy, in addition to reading and writing, now extends to such basic education as numeracy, social and personal development, learning to learn and IT skills.

The adult literacy service is free and confidential. It is available as a stand-alone tuition programme in a variety of formats (intensive, family and workplace) and for specific groups (deaf people, people with dyslexia and native Irish speakers in Gaeltacht areas). For more information contact your local Education and Training Board (ETB).

Community Education

Community Education refers to education and learning, generally outside the formal education sector, with the aims of enhancing learning, empowerment and contributing to civic society.

It is firmly community-based, with local groups taking responsibility for, and playing a key role in, organising courses and deciding on programme-content. Community Education is funded by the Department of Education through SOLAS, who provide annual grants to local Education and Training

Boards (ETB) to set up educational programmes and distribute funds. Funding is usually allocated through the provision of tutor hours, or small grants, to a range of community and voluntary groups for educational activities. For more information contact your local Education and Training Board (ETB).

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FIT (Fastrack to Information Technology)

FIT is an industry-led initiative which works in close collaboration with government departments and national education and training agencies, local development organisations and a host of community based organisations. Its primary partners in education and training include SOLAS, ETBs (Formerly VEC), Third Level Institutions, Leargas, Leader Companies, Rapid Coordinators, Local Authorities and Employment Pacts.

FIT’s mission is to promote an inclusive Smart Economy by creating a fast track to marketable technical skills for those at risk of unemployment long term. It is the primary industry skills development initiative facilitating collaboration with government, education & training providers and disadvantaged communities to enable greater access to employment for marginalised jobseekers.

FIT programmes are carefully tailored to give jobseekers new marketable skills to compete for sustainable jobs in the emerging knowledge economy. FIT courses are accessible and results are achievable even for people who may not have taken part in formal education for many years. To find out more information on the wide range of courses on offer, to check the eligibility criteria and to enrol on a FIT course visit:


Skillnet is an enterprise-led body funded through the National Training Fund (NTF) to provide companies with new opportunities to develop relevant, effective answers to their training and development needs. For further information contact Skillnet on: (01) 207 9630. Website:

Education, Training and Development Courses

You may be able to take up education, training or development courses not normally covered by the BTEA. This can be discussed with an Employment Services Officer/Case Officer at your local Intreo Centre.

  • Eligibility criteria are similar to those for the Back to Education Allowance, however periods spent on VTOS, Training Courses, Youthreach, C.E., Back to Work Allowance, do not count towards the qualifying period
  • 21 years of age or
  • 18 – 20 years of age and out of formal education for 2 years and getting a qualifying payment for 3 months
  • In receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance for at least 6 months (156 days)
  • An Employment Services Officer/Case Officer must approve the course
  • You must satisfy the Employment Services Officer/Case Officer that the course will specifically improve your chance of getting a job

A broad range of basic courses may be approved e.g. personal development courses, basic education and literacy classes.

Part-time Education Options

If you are a Jobseeker, you can take on part-time study and you may be able to retain your Jobseekers payment. Although this option is not part of any return-to-education programme or course, it is your ‘right’ as an unemployed person to pursue training, re-training or education, which may improve your ability to seek and find work, while you continue to look for work. To be eligible you will still need to be Genuinely Seeking Work.

To avail of this option you will need to complete the form PTEO with details of your planned education and submit it to your local Intreo Centre. You should do this prior to starting your course to ensure that no problems arise.

There are many part-time courses, usually called ‘Adult Education Courses’, available in schools and colleges. There is usually a small fee for these courses, but very often a reduced rate fee applies to people on low incomes. Ask about possible fee reductions. These courses are listed in The Guide to Evening Classes, available in your local library/bookshop.

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Springboard+ Initiative 

If you are unemployed, you may want to continue your education or take part in a training course to develop your skills and improve your chances of getting back to work.

Springboard+ which incorporates the ICT Skills Conversion programme is an initiative to help unemployed, and previously self-employed people and returners (homemakers) remain as close as possible to the labour market by accessing free part-time flexible higher education and training opportunities to upskill or reskill in areas where there are skills shortages and sustainable employment opportunities.

Since 2018 those in employment are also eligible to apply and pay 10% of the cost of the course fee.

Courses approved for funding under Springboard+ 2019 are in the following key growth sectors of the economy: ICT, Engineering, Manufacturing, Construction, Hospitality, Business, Administration and Law. Limited courses are also available in Entrepreneurship, Animation, Medical Devices Decontamination and certain other manufacturing related services courses.

A full list of approved Springboard+ courses together with the eligibility criteria are available on the Springboard+ website

How to apply

Applications for the Springboard+ programme can only be made online through the dedicated information and applications website: Potential applicants can also contact the

Springboard+ Guidance Helpline on 1800 303523 or (01)5253692 for further information.

Applications cannot be made directly to colleges participating in Springboard+. Please contact individual colleges for further information on courses that are made available.

If you are getting a Social Welfare payment, you should notify your local Intreo Centre and check what further steps (if any) you need to take.

Qualification Eligibility

Returners (Formerly referred to as Homemakers)

  • May apply to all courses free of charge, if they meet the nationality/visa requirement and residency criteria. Course specific criteria may also apply.

People in employment

  • May apply to all courses if they meet the nationality/visa requirement and residency criteria.
  • Please note that a 10% course fee contribution for Level 7, 8, and 9 courses is applicable for employed participants. This is payable directly to the provider.
  • Level 6 courses are free to all participants.

The unemployed or formerly self-employed

  • May apply to all courses free of charge, with the exception of the two year part-time ICT conversion courses. Unemployed applicants will also be required to meet additional DSP related criteria. They must have been in receipt of a recognised DSP payment for 9 of the previous 12 months if they wish to participate on one-year full-time ICT Skills Conversion courses.

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At the time of starting a Springboard+ course, you must either be getting a qualifying Social Welfare payment or be in one of the other eligible categories listed below. The qualifying Social Welfare payments are:

There is no requirement to be in receipt of a payment for a particular period of time prior to the commencement of the programme.

People participating in the Community Employment Scheme; the Rural Social Scheme; Tús or in receipt of the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance or the Short Term Enterprise Allowance may apply for Springboard+ and, with the approval of a Department of Social Protection Case Officer, take up a Springboard+ course.

You can also apply for a course if you were formerly self-employed but are now unemployed and actively seeking work, even if you are currently in receipt of a Social Welfare payment.

Returners are a further category who are eligible to apply for a free Springboard+ course. They are people who are not in receipt of a payment from the Department of Social Protection but who have been out of the work environment for a number of years.

ICT Skills Conversion Programme

Places have been made available on Higher Diploma Level 8 ICT Conversion Programmes. The programmes are targeted at Jobseekers who have the capacity and underlying aptitude, as well as an honours degree in a cognate discipline, to undergo an intensive programme of study and work experience to acquire honours degree level ICT programming skills. Specific eligibility criteria are available at:

A person who is receipt of Jobseeker’s Benefit or Jobseeker’s Allowance for at least nine of the previous twelve months may qualify to retain their income support while participating on a one-year, full-time ICT skills conversion course. Eligible participants will transfer to a bespoke version of the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA).

However, as stated above, please note that a person who is in receipt of a Jobseekers payment (including Farm Assist and Qualified Adults of Working Age), regardless of duration, is not eligible to apply for a place on two-year part-time Conversion courses.

Contact Us


You can speak, in complete confidence, to an Information Officer in the Information and Advocacy section directly at 01 - 856 0088 , Monday - Thursday 9.30 am to 5.00 pm and Friday 9.30am to 4.00pm.


Use the online Contact Us forms on the INOU website

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Updated: 11/07/2023