Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, has published a three-year plan which aims to recover financial losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The plan promises to aid the severe decrease in revenue usually received from international students as well as long term institutional reforms of the third level education system in Ireland.

The announced plans follow Harris’ comments last month that the country’s third-level education system was “Not fit for purpose”. Speaking today, Harris claimed that the plans represented “the biggest overhaul of the higher education sector in the history of the state” and emphasised the importance of broadening the options that are available at present, from the perspective of students individually as well as the economy at large.

Lost Revenue

It has been reported that in 2019 around 44,000 international students chose to pursue either undergraduate or postgraduate studies in Ireland. The cumulative monetary impact of these students on the Irish economy is an estimated €2.5 billion annually.

Unveiling the plans, Harris emphasised that the long-term consequences of Brexit could be of particular advantage to Ireland in the coming years with a possible 2,600 person increase in non-United Kingdom (UK) and non-European Union (EU) students coming to Ireland to pursue third level courses. 

He said: “With the Withdrawal of the UK from the European Union, Ireland will be the only major English-speaking country in the EU.” This increase is thought to be a transfer of those who would normally have applied to third level institutions within the UK.

Apprenticeships and CAO Reform

The plan published by Harris’ Department today also gave a general overview of intended future reforms of the education system more broadly, with mentions of rehauling apprenticeship programmes as they stand currently. The aim of these planned initiatives is to lessen the stigma against apprenticeships on prospective school leavers while also making them more available within public departments and local authorities. 

A redesign of the CAO has also been announced; it will enable school leavers to choose between applying to further education programmes and apprenticeships as well as third level courses, thus allowing students ease of access to each of their applications at any one time. 

Doireann O’Sullivan – Reporter