BH Associates
Education Consultants


News & Announcements

Optimising the structure and governance of the Irish post-secondary education and training system to meet skills needs


Optimising the structure and governance of the Irish post-secondary education and training system to meet skills needs

Wednesday, 20 February 2019, 8.30-11.30am (Coffee from 8.00am)
Royal Irish Academy, Dawson Street, Dublin


MARY MITCHELL O’CONNOR T.D. Minister for Higher Education


TIM FOWLER, CEO of the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission. The TEC has responsibility for both further and higher education, and so his experiences and insights around a combined “system” of post-secondary education/training, as well as his experience of a single agency with funding, accountability and governance roles, will be interesting to an Irish audience.  

DIRK VAN DAMME, Head of Division in the Directorate for Education and Skills at the OECD. Dirk is responsible for the Skills Beyond School (SBS) division, covering work on skills, adult learning, vocational education and higher education, and the Inclusive Growth Initiative.

NIALL O’DONNELLAN is Divisional Manager with responsibility for ICT and International Service Sectors and for Client Leadership Skills within Enterprise Ireland. Niall has worked in strategy formulation and implementation in key areas of economic development. Previously, Niall worked in Forfás (the Industrial Policy Body), on enterprise and EU support programmes and supply of skills, where he was involved in establishing the Expert Group on Future Skill Needs. 

MARY-LIZ TRANT, Executive Director Skills Development, SOLAS. Overseeing skills development, her areas of responsibility include expansion of the national apprenticeship and traineeship systems; upskilling in the Irish workforce; technology-enhanced learning; enterprise engagement; and professional development of teachers and tutors within further education and training. Previously Mary-Liz held senior posts in the Higher Education Authority (HEA) as Head of Skills and Enterprise Engagement and Head of the National Office for Equity of Access to Higher Education. 


The nature of work is changing at an unprecedented rate. A paper presented by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) at the 2nd Meeting of the G20 Employment Working Group (15-17 February 2017), identified that three ongoing mega-trends have the potential of significantly altering the nature of work in all G20 countries: globalization, technological progress, and demographic change. Together, these trends are likely to bring many positive effects for workers and societies. But, in the absence of adequate systems of education and training, these trends could make it harder to provide employment opportunities for the large number of people entering the labour market, or requiring reskilling to find good jobs and stainable life. The implications of failure include economic decline and a growing pool of seriously disaffected people in our societies, alienated from the system of government and society.

The Irish post-secondary/tertiary education and training system comprises both further and higher education, apprenticeship, and adult and life-long learning. As a system it stands front and centre in our response to the changing nature of work and other grand challenges, including environmental change.  It is a system that has delivered much success in recent decades for our society and economy. However, it is also a system already struggling with the demands of mass higher education; international mobility of academics, students and graduates; the demands of, and for, lifelong learning and virtual, distance education; the demand from governments and students for better alignment between education and training and the skills needs of the economy; and the over-arching issues of affordability and sustainability.

While these issues are particular to Ireland, they are not unique. Different countries are confronting similar challenges in the knowledge that as people live and work longer, the post-secondary/tertiary system will need to meet a wider range of changing skill and societal needs. Accordingly, they are examining better organisational and governance arrangements to meet the needs of mass participation societies in the 21stcentury. 

In this context, the following are just some of the questions thrown up by international developments with respect to how the Irish education and training system should best respond – questions which we hope will prompt discussion at the seminar –

  • In an environment where jobs and careers are changing at an unprecedented rate, how can the Irish education and training system balance skills required today with more-broad based, “future proofed”, generic skills?

  • As matters stand, is the Irish post-secondary education and training system overly focussed on higher education, and on universities in particular. If so, is more direct government intervention needed to achieve a better balance and “wean” people off their biases – and in what form?

  • While funding sustainability is an overarching issue for the entire education and training system, how could funding be employed to meet a policy objective of a more coherent and cohesive post-secondary system? 

  • A reformed apprenticeship system, combined with the creation of SOLAS and the ETBs, offer enormous opportunities for a more effective post-secondary education and training system. How can we better integrate these recent developments with higher education and broaden entry routes to, and between, FET and HE to be effectively seamless?

  • What additionality can technological universities bring to the system?

  • How do we ensure that our post-secondary system is sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of mature and adult learners throughout their lives?

  • How can Ireland engage employers to best advantage in identifying and addressing skills needs?

  • How do we optimise the role and contribution of the private education sector?

  • Acting on the premise that the post-secondary education and training system is currently not optimally configured to meet economic, social and personal needs, what international models of organisation and governance might Ireland consider?  In particular, should Ireland implement the New Zealand model of a combined system of further education and training and higher education under a single agency/ministry?

BH Associates