Written answers

Thursday, 13 July 2023

Department of Education and Skills

Further and Higher Education

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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867. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the total number of college places now being made available outside the CAO system in the different schemes; how these have grown over the past five years, to include Springboard, apprenticeships, human capital initiative, skillnet, FET, and his new scheme for entry into certain health and practical skills announced recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35375/23]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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It is a priority of my Department to expand the pathways to tertiary education by providing a multitude of routes outside the traditional CAO process.

As the Deputy is aware, there are a range of options in the system that learners can consider. For those who do not gain access to their course of choice via the CAO system, there are many alternative education paths available to them. That could be through FET, apprenticeship, Springboard, the Human Capital Initiative, Skillnet, or the new joint tertiary programmes.

Please find below the total number of places currently being offered to learners across these different schemes, including a breakdown of their growth over the past 5 years.

Further Education and Training (FET)

FET is primarily delivered or contracted by the 16 Education and Training Boards (ETBs) under the funding and strategic direction of SOLAS, the Further Education and Training Authority. FET provision includes both labour market focused programmes and programmes with a strong social inclusion dimension. FET is available in every community in Ireland, and provides programmes on both a full and part-time basis, including evenings and weekends, as well as blended and online options. There is a broad and diverse range of courses, programmes and supports on offer within FET at levels 1-6 of the NFQ, providing learning and upskilling.

The breakdown of unique-learner enrolments in level 5 and 6 FET courses for the years 2018 – 2022 incl. is in the attached table.


The ‘Action Plan for Apprenticeship 2021-2025’ was launched in April 2021 and seeks to deliver on a target of 10,000 apprenticeship registrations per annum, across a wide range of programmes, by 2025.

There are currently 69 national apprenticeship programmes available, 25 craft and 44 new consortia led apprenticeships in sectors such as ICT, retail, and biopharma. Many of the new programmes have off-the-job training delivered through on-line or blended learning. This provides a significant opportunity for widening of access to apprenticeship for rural businesses and learners, further contributing to the strong regional dimension which apprenticeship provides.

The positive impacts of APA and resultant measures are already evident in apprentice registrations. 2022 saw 8,286 new apprenticeship registrations, an increase of 34% on the pre-Covid figure in 2019. At the end of 2022 there were over 26,000 people at various stages of their apprenticeship.


Springboard+ complements the core State-funded education and training system and provides free and subsidised upskilling and reskilling higher education opportunities in areas of identified skills need from Level 6 to Level 9 on the NFQ. All courses provide job-readiness training and most offer the opportunity for work placement, project-based learning or industry site visits where appropriate. Since 2011, over €330m has been spent on Springboard+ and over 100,000 people have benefited from the programme to date. In the last 5 years (since 2018) €200m funding provided 53,671 places on 1,540 courses. The attached Springboard+ breakdown has further details.

Human Capital Initiative (HCI)

The Human Capital Initiative (HCI), launched by the government in late 2019, The Human Capital Initiative (HCI) forms a key part of the strategic response to a changing world of work and the challenges the economy will face in the period ahead. With a strong focus on innovation and agility, the programmes being supported will ensure that graduates and the education system as a whole, are in a position to respond positively to the challenges and opportunities ahead.

The HCI consists of 3 main pillars - graduate conversion and specialisation courses, additional places on undergraduate provision, and an innovation and agility fund. Places outside the CAO system have been made available on HCI Pillar 1 and Pillar 3.

HCI Pillar 1, Graduate Conversion Programmes, was launched on 17th June 2020, with 5,891 places being made available on 93 courses over three years. To date, 10,254 places have now been made available on 155 courses. These courses were originally one-year, full time conversion courses at Levels 8 and 9 but HCI Pillar 1 2023 now includes part-time courses. These courses are in areas of identified skills need, building on experience of the ICT Conversion Courses under Springboard+.

HCI Pillar 3, Innovation and Agility, has two key areas of focus – innovation in modes and methods of delivery and an agility fund. It aims to ensure that courses in areas of skills needs demonstrate innovative methods of teaching and delivery, which will include flexibility in course provision. HCI Pillar 3 will deliver 24 projects in higher education institutions, 19 of which involve collaborations between institutions. 22 projects were originally funded in 2020 and an additional 2 projects got funded in 2022. The projects include the use of virtual laboratories in higher education, a new hub to upskill the building sector on green construction, and the establishment of a Creative Futures Academy to support digital and screen culture, cinema, literature and broadcasting, art, design, and fashion.

To date in Pillar 3, over 316 courses funding 3,221 additional places have been developed outside the CAO system. Pillar 3 is exceeding targets, and more places and courses are expected to be delivered and reported on within the lifetime of the project. Breakdowns with further details on HCI P1 and P3 courses are available in the attached spreadsheet.


Skillnet Ireland provides subsidised training to business through learning networks operating nationwide and across all sectors. Skillnet Ireland is funded from the National Training Fund through DFHERIS. In 2022 Skillnet Ireland, through its 71 Skillnet Networks, has provided upskilling programmes to over 87,000 trainees and supported over 25,000 businesses. While the majority of its training programmes are delivered through the Skillnet Business Networks programme, Skillnet Ireland also provides a range of talent and upskilling supports across key thematic areas of climate action, digitalisation, FDI talent and SME leadership and productivity.

Skillnet Ireland are currently compiling a manual review of the total number of college places provided over the past 5 years. This data will be forwarded to the Deputy when available.

Joint Tertiary Programmes

The new joint tertiary programmes were launched on Friday 7th July. From September of this year, students will be able to enrol in one of 23 courses across healthcare, enterprise, ICT and creative sectors in a Further Education institution before progressing to a Higher Education institution to complete their fully accredited degree. These programmes represent an important new departure in flexible provision, and will provide pathways to learners outside the traditional CAO process.

As this first tranche of programmes represents a pilot, exact figures for the first intake are not yet known.

It is expected that the National Tertiary Office will launch a call for further tertiary programmes later this year, and further and higher education institutions from across the country will be invited to participate in this next phase.


Year Total Level 5 and 6 provision Post Leaving Certificate Course (PLC) only


Year Course places No of courses Amount of funding

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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868. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will ensure that an adequate number of courses are provided in colleges of further education throughout the country in relation to different professions providing healthcare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35390/23]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Further Education and Training (FET) courses are delivered, or contracted, by the 16 Education and Training Boards (ETBs) across the country at levels 1-6 on the NFQ. While this is under the funding and strategic direction of SOLAS, the ETBs decide on the level and nature of provision, including healthcare-related courses, based on local demand in consultation with SOLAS.

In 2022, just over 6,000 beneficiaries took part in FET healthcare-related courses. This year, the planned FET provision for healthcare-related courses is at a similar level.

Additionally, SOLAS, in conjunction with the Central Statistics Office, has recently completed research, which focused on the learner outcomes for healthcare learners in FET. Their research report highlights the many positive outcomes for learners, who complete their healthcare training provision in the FET system. This Report is available on the SOLAS website.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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869. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills when a building project (details supplied) will proceed to the next stage; the timescale for the delivery of this new accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35424/23]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Late last year, I was delighted to announce that the proposal for the project referred to by the Deputy was successful at the first stage of the assessment process under the FET College of the Future Major Projects Fund.

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that since then my department has worked closely with SOLAS in developing a suite of templates and guidance notes in line with Public Spending Code requirements for the preliminary business case stage of the process. Workshops took place at the end of March 2023 with relevant ETB representatives, to advise on how to complete the templates. SOLAS will continue to work closely with these ETBs, during the development phase of their proposal. ETBs have up to the end of September to complete and return their preliminary business cases for evaluation.

This proposal is to accommodate 1,000 students by building new centralised accommodation. This campus would be complementary to and work in collaboration with the current FET Training campus to further consolidate provision of FET programmes at Levels 5 and 6, as well as apprenticeships from a centralised, flagship college.


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