This September more than 70,000 students will commence their studies in Further Education (FE) colleges all over Ireland. But what exactly is a Further Education college and how can FE colleges advance your career and education prospects?
Further Education covers education and training which occurs after second level schooling but which is not part of the third level system. FE colleges act as a bridge to access courses at third level (Universities and Institutes of Technology). For example, if you do not have enough points to study Science or Engineering at University, you can complete a one year FE course and then re-apply through the Higher Education links scheme. This scheme links FE awards with a huge number of courses at third level, so completing a FE course may be another route into third level. FE courses are also aimed at upskilling and reskilling so that students can progress into excellent employment opportunities. If you want to work as a Healthcare Assistant in a hospital for example, obtaining the QQI Level 5 award in Healthcare ensures that you are qualified to do so.
All Further Education courses lead to a QQI (Quality and Qualifications Ireland) award, which is a nationally and internationally recognised qualification. FE courses can be offered on a full- or part-time basis and are available in a diverse range of areas including Art, Business, Computing, Childcare, Engineering, Healthcare, Nursing, Science and Social Care. The majority of Further Education courses are placed at Level 5 on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). The NFQ is a ten point scale on which all Irish qualifications are based. By successfully completing a Further Education course at Level 5, you can then progress easily onto third level (Level 6 upwards).
Further Education courses are typically one year in duration. They differ to third level in that they have smaller class sizes, individualised support from tutors and a more hands on approach to learning. Further Education courses are available to school-leavers and adults at any stage of their life who wish to upskill, reskill or gain a new qualification. Throughout the duration of a FE course, students will gain essential skills which will give them a massive advantage ahead of their peers when they start at third level or in the world of work. For instance, Nursing students will be adept at taking blood pressure readings and client care. Software students will have experience in web design and programming. Engineering students will have spent the year studying specific core modules such as Electronics and Mechanics in a specialised workshop. From Medical Secretary to Community Care to Business, there is more than likely a Further Education course that is perfect for you.
Generally speaking FE college fees tend to be very affordable when compared with Third Level. FE students typically pay no tuition fees for their course, with the only charge being a small registration/materials fee. VTOS-eligible students pay no fees or course costs at all. While PLC students are eligible for the SUSI Grant, and this will not affect any subsequent grant applications when they enter Higher Education.
If you are interested in pursuing a Further Education course, you can find out information at www.qualifax.ie or by going directly to the website of the FE college you are interested in. However please be advised that most courses start in September and if you wish to be considered for a place at your local FE College, you need to apply as soon as possible.
Mary Mc Mahon
Further Education Co-ordinator