Higher education should not just be for school leavers, Simon Harris has said as he launches an alternative to the Leaving Certificate.
Most third-level students are accepted to their course because of the Leaving Cert results - but the Minister for Higher Education said this means people who do not sit the exam or did poorly in it often miss out.
Minister Harris will launch details of his new proposals today – and told Newstalk Breakfast he hopes the changes will help people who might have thought they had little chance of going to college.
“You could be somebody, today, in your 50s looking to go back to education and this could be a way that works well for you too,” he said.
Students will be able to enrol in 23 courses ranging from healthcare, ICT and creative subjects.
“This is a - I hate the phrase - pilot but it’s phase one,” said Minister Harris.
“There’s about 500 places and the website outlining the courses will go live later on today at NTO.ie.
“Each of the programmes will, of course, have entry requirements - you have to have some way of assessing who can get into a programme - and those will vary from course to course.
“For example, if you’re looking to do some of the creative or arts courses, portfolios will be required.”
Students will be able to apply for SUSI grants and will pay the same fees as other third-level students.
“For the further education part, you won’t pay fees and for the higher education fees you’ll pay the regular fees,” Minister Harris said.
“So, to give you one example, there’s a BA programme and honours degree in immersive media production; that’s a four-year degree programme you can do year one and year two in Bray Institute of Further Education or Ballyfermot College of Education.
“Then, [you can do] years three and four in IADT.
“For the first two years you’re in the college of further education, you won’t pay fees at all and then for year three and four you’ll pay the normal student registration fee.”
Minister Harris predicted the scheme will prove popular and if so could be “expanded in the years ahead.”
He also dismissed talk of challenging Leo Varadkar for the Fine Gael leadership - describing the Taoiseach as an “excellent”.
Despite this, he did not deny he would some day like to lead the party.
“You know my answer to that,” he said.
“That’s a hypothetical; I’ve never hidden my ambition.
“I think ambition is a good thing in all workplaces but it doesn’t arise now and should it arise in the future that’s a different discussion.”