Simon Harris has announced a “radical” reform of the CAO entrance process to improve accessibility to higher education. Speaking on the Pat Kenny Show earlier today, Simon Harris, Minister for Further and Higher Education described this reform as “the biggest overhaul of the higher education system in the history of the state.”

Currently, the application system does not include options for apprenticeships or further education training (FET) as it is a private organisation, however, this more enhanced, integrated model would provide greater options to incoming third-level students. 

“I want to create an integrated education system where people can move from further education to higher education with much more ease. I want to look at how we can learn the lessons from Covid in terms of blended learning for people who may be living in rural Ireland or people who can’t pack their bags and go to university for four years.”

The aim is to make CAO applicants more aware of the pathways available to them through a “one-stop-shop application form” in which students can apply for an apprenticeship or a Level 4 or 5, alongside Level 6, 7, and 8 courses. 

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There is a separate credit system for FET courses at present, but this is scheduled to be abolished by 2022. In doing so, pressure on both students and college places will be alleviated, as well as providing new entrants with as much information as possible. 

The plan also seeks to reduce the level of dropout rates at third-level which currently stands at approximately 25 percent. 

The number of apprenticeships is set to increase by 10,000 per year and a new financial incentive has been put in place whereby employers are granted €3,000 when they hire an apprentice. Harris also calls for the public sector to “step up” in a demand that every state agency sets a target regarding apprenticeships.

Financing for higher education is also being reviewed as part of the new strategy under a sustainable funding and reform programme. “An undergraduate degree should be a natural extension of our education system”, Mr. Harris said, while also rejecting student loans, claiming that they do not work. 

Spending towards higher education now amounts to around 1.83 billion euro a year, with 44% of students in the state having their registration fee paid for by the government.

Ella Waddington – Reporter