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This page details the history, policy background and governance practices of the National Tertiary Office. We have specific information pages for the guidance sector or for students (and more on Financial Support and student’s FAQs).

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History of the NTO

The establishment of the National Tertiary Office in 2022 was a significant development in Ireland’s further and higher education landscape. The NTO was created to extend educational policy priorities, specifically to guide the creation of diverse and progressive pathways to qualifications. The National Tertiary Office leads increased collaboration and stronger co-operation in the tertiary education system and plays an important role in shaping the future of the country’s tertiary education system. The National Tertiary Office is jointly managed by the HEA and SOLAS. Dr. Fiona Maloney is the Director of the NTO.  

The NTO is responsible for coordinating and supporting the development of policy in relation to further and higher education progression pathways for students. Working with the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and the Education and Training Boards (ETBs), the NTO is advancing a strategic approach to enhancing the pathways between the Further Education and Training and Higher Education sectors. These collaborations, now known as tertiary degrees, see students commence their third level experience in further education and complete it in a partner higher education institution. 

Policy Background of the NTO

The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (DFHERIS) Statement of Strategy 2023 to 2025 informs NTO policy and development. The NTO contributed to the statement of strategy, focusing on the provision of diverse and progressive pathways for learners, and enabling progression across and between different institutions. 

Funding the Future (HEA) is a funding and reform framework for higher education on the creation of a unified, balanced and integrated knowledge and skills system. with clear and extensive pathways for learners, and an expansive qualifications frameworks aligned to current and future knowledge and skills needs. 

Progressing a More Unified Tertiary System for Learning, Skills and Knowledge (DFHERIS) vision policy paper details the creation of more diverse and better aligned learning and development opportunities as well as more extensive pathways will enable students’ personal growth, the development of talents, and the promotion of lifelong learning. 

SOLAS ‘Transforming Learning Strategy 2022-2024 transitions within FET and from FET to HE as a strategic priority. Dedicated focus to support the PATH3 – cohesive approach to developing the FE-HE links further in the FET sector.

Regional Dialogues (DFHERIS 2023) illuminated the pivotal role of the tertiary system in fostering and propelling regional industries in cultivating a skilled workforce and increasing its potential through the equitable access and participation of people from diverse backgrounds. 

Tertiary Degree Programme

After its creation, the NTO facilitated cross-sector conversations between ETBs and HEIs, which lead to the development of tertiary degrees. Tertiary degrees are a unique new pathway in Irish post-secondary education, that include several bespoke features, tailored to target access issues to obtaining an NFQ 7 or 8 qualification. Tertiary degrees allow students to start their students in FE for the first two years, before transitioning seamlessly into HEI. It’s all one process housed in one application, with guaranteed progression (subject to students passing exams). The entry requirements are tailored to each degree and notably not based on the points system. 
The final Bachelor or Bachelor (Hons) awards are awarded by the HEI, as are most of the embedded awards built into the degree, which were put in place to ensure there are recognition structures throughout. Another unique feature, embedded awards are designed to address issues created when a student, for whatever reason, needs to leave an undergraduate programme before completing the final year. Embedded awards allow for recognition of prior learning, a priority expanding access in the Irish education sector. Tertiary degrees are designed to provide a pathway for students who would not otherwise avail themselves of a higher-level qualification. 

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