The public sector has 'really been appalling' in terms of taking on apprentices, according to the Higher Education Minister.
Simon Harris says it's a 'disgrace' that there's only around 300 apprentices in the entire public sector.
He was speaking as he unveils a planned 'radical overhaul' of the CAO system.
Currently, the CAO doesn't include things like apprenticeships, further education options or traineeships.
That would change under the new plans, and the different options would all be available under a single platform.
On today's Pat Kenny Show, Minister Harris said it's not just the private sector that needs to create apprenticeships.
He observed: “It’s a matter for the private sector, but not only.
"I think the public sector has really been appalling in this space - did you know we only have about 300 apprentices in the entire public sector? I mean, that’s a disgrace
"It’s a real [example] of the State lecturing businesses on what to do, but not stepping up to the plate itself.”
While there's many people believe apprenticeships are just about trades and crafts, Minister Harris said there are also ones in areas such as financial management and accounting.
He said: “Under the new action plan on apprenticeships - which will go to Cabinet this month - we’re going to demand that every department, state agency and county council sets a target to what it can do on apprenticeships.
“The public sector has been laggards in this regard."
In terms of funding, Minister Harris argued that 'political cowardice' has dominated the debate around third-level education for generations.
He said: “The funding is the big issue… but the funding of everything in politics and policy is the big issue.
"The question is what is the economic benefit of living in a country where everybody can access an undergraduate education, should that be their wish.
“It is my view… that student loans don’t work. I do think they can be a barrier, particularly for people from people from socio-economic communities of disadvantage.
“I have a view - quite a strong view, but it’s not the Government’s yet - that an undergraduate degree should be a natural extension of our education system.”
He noted that free secondary school education was 'transformative' for the State, and that should carry over to third-level education.
He said around 44% of students currently don't face an upfront cost for third-level education as their €3,000 registration fee is paid for them by grants and other allowances.