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Higher Education

Higher Education in Ireland is provided mainly by 7 Universities, 14 Institutes of Technology, including the Dublin Institute of Technology and 7 Colleges of Education. In addition, a number of other third level institutions provide specialist education in such fields as art and design, medicine, business studies, rural development, theology, music and law. Click here for a full list of these institutions.

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).  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.

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) is the statutory planning and development body for higher education and research in Ireland. The HEA has wide advisory powers throughout the whole of the third-level education sector. In addition it is the funding authority for the universities, institutes of technology and other designated higher education institutions.

The Universities Act, 1997 sets out the objects and functions of a university, the structure and role of governing bodies, staffing arrangements, composition and role of academic councils and sections relating to property, finance and reporting. The governing authorities are required to see that strategic development plans are in place, and that procedures for evaluating teaching and research are in place. The HEA has an overseeing role on such plans and quality assurance procedures. The legislative framework preserves the academic freedom of the universities and respects the diverse traditions and institutional autonomy of each university.

The Institutes of Technology Act, 2006, creates a similar relationship between the institutes and the HEA as that between the HEA and the universities. It provides for greater institutional autonomy, improved governance and a statutory guarantee of academic freedom for the Institutes of Technology.

The National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030, which was launched in 2011, will see the transformation of Ireland’s higher education sector over the next two decades.  Endorsed by Government as the future blueprint for the sector, the Strategy sets out changes for the sector that are aimed at providing for:

  • a more flexible system, with a greater choice of provision and modes of learning for an increasingly diverse cohort of students;
  • improvements in the quality of the student experience, the quality of teaching and learning and the relevance of learning outcomes; and
  • ensuring that higher education connects more effectively with wider social, economic and enterprise needs through its staff, the quality of its graduates, the relevance of its programmes, the quality of its research and its ability to translate that into high value jobs and real benefits for society.
  • National Strategy for Higher Education 2030: Implementation Plan
  • National Strategy for Higher Education 2030: Progress Report Q4 2012

In May 2013 the Minister for Education and Skills announced a major re-organisationof the country’s higher education sector.This announcement followed recommendations made by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) on system reconfiguration, inter-institutional collaboration and system governance in Irish higher education.

A new system performance framework is being put in place by the HEA based on key system objectives and indicators noted by Government.  In the next stage of implementation of the framework the HEA will enter into a set of individual institutional performance compacts with higher education institutions which will reflect each institution’s contribution as part of a new higher education system designed to respond to the needs of Ireland’s economy and wider society in the coming years.  A key element in the overall approach will be the implementation of performance funding in the sector.

The Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn T.D., has announced the publication of the Heads of a Bill which will allow for the future establishment of Technological Universities and the mergers of institutes of technology.

The Bill provides the legislative underpinning for institutes of technology who have established partnerships and wish to merge, with a view to becoming Technological Universities. The General Scheme of the Technological Universities Bill is available at: General Scheme Technological Universities Bill 2014

In July 2014 the Minister for Education and Skills established an expert group to examine future funding policy for higher education. The group is charged with identifying and considering the issues relating to the long term sustainable funding of Higher Education in Ireland and to identify options for change. The Group is to report to the Minister by the end of the year. Details of the Members of the Group and its terms of reference are available here - Expert Group on Future Funding for Higher Education

The Group will have a series of consultations with relevant stakeholders and interested parties during the course of its work. The first stakeholder consultation event is being held on 30 January, 2015 and will focus on the role, value and scale of higher education in Ireland and the implications for its further development. The discussion paper which will inform this stage of consultation is available here - Expert Group on Future Funding for Higher Education - Discussion Paper for Stakeholder Consultation

The Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) advises the Government on current and future skills needs and on other labour market issues that impact on Ireland's enterprise and employment growth. The Group brings together industry, academia and State agencies in identifying the overall skills requirements in the economy. Copies of EGFSN reports are issued to individual education and training providers and they provide a valuable input to the development and amendment of course curricula. EGFSN reports are also published on their website at