Initiative tackles barriers like cost of accommodation, travel, and CAO entry points
Entry to, and participation in, third level education can present a number of challenges for learners who wish to advance their educational and career prospects.
A very exciting collaboration between Laois and Offaly Education and Training Board (LOETB) and South East Technological University (SETU) aims to eradicate some of the most common barriers to participation in higher education – such as cost of accommodation, travel, and CAO entry points.
In December 2022, in furthering his commitment to opening more routes of access to higher education, Minister Simon Harris announced the establishment of a National Tertiary Office to develop joint further and higher education degree programmes.
LOETB is one of eight ETBs involved in the initial roll-out, which will see 13 courses associated with six higher education institutions being offered in Further Education and Training (FET) colleges.
LOETB and SETU are collaborating to provide two different programmes under this project as an initial offering, with plans to expand the range of programmes into the future.
For learners in Laois and surrounding areas, this arrangement means that from September 2023, teaching staff in Portlaoise Institute will be delivering SETU’s Higher Certificate in Computing, and Higher Certificate in Business, in Portlaoise over two years, with successful graduates progressing to their third year of a four-year degree programme in SETU (Carlow Campus).
Effectively, this means that learners will complete half of their degree programme in a centre that is on their doorstep. This represents huge benefits for local learners in Laois, the main benefit being the opportunity to avail of a cost-effective means of accessing third level education in our region.
Anne Marie Keane, Project Lead for LOETB in its collaboration with SETU, is looking forward to welcoming applications for this pilot initiative:
“LOETB is acutely aware of the pressures that learners and their families are experiencing in the current climate, and are delighted to collaborate on this project to make third level education more accessible to learners in our region.
“The option for learners to complete a significant element of their undergraduate studies closer to home provides many benefits including reduced accommodation and travel expenses, greater study/life balance, and a smoother transition to higher education, leading to greater retention and completion rates.
“By developing and maintaining our very positive relationship with SETU, we are confident that learners that embark on these programmes will receive excellent tuition, instruction and support in the pursuit of their chosen career paths, just as they would if they were attending the Carlow campus.”
David Denieffe, Vice-President for Academic Affairs in SETU welcomed the initiative: “This is something that we in SETU and our colleagues in LOETB have been working on for some time. We believe that it will create clear progression pathways for students transitioning from Further Education to Higher Education.
“We look forward to continuing to work in enhanced partnership with LOETB to explore this new model for joint further and higher education programmes that will strengthen learner pathways and ensure they are accessible to everyone”
A different route
Admission to these programmes will not be through the usual CAO application route – rather, it will be a more inclusive process consisting of an initial assessment and interview process, and will take into account past experience as much as academic achievement.
It is anticipated that these programme offerings will appeal to a diverse range of age groups and backgrounds.
Removing the focus on CAO points will enable learners to focus less on their Leaving Certificate results, and more on the career that they want to pursue, and in turn will help to address key skills shortages in Ireland.
The project represents a huge step in the right direction in making education truly inclusive and accessible to all, which is a key priority for LOETB, SETU and all their stakeholders.