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Northern Ireland’s Universities and Further Education Colleges have united behind a new initiative aimed at ensuring school leavers are made aware of the full range of higher education options available locally.

For the first time school leavers, parents and careers staff will have access to the full higher education course listing through a single source at each of Northern Ireland’s two universities.

Dedicated pages on each University website will provide a full listing of all higher education opportunities available to school leavers. Individuals who do not receive an offer can use the web pages to signpost them towards other provisions, including foundation degrees and higher education courses at Northern Ireland’s six local Further Education Colleges.

The aim is to ensure that Northern Ireland’s school leavers understand the many alternative and valued routes to a university degree that are available via Northern Ireland’s six regional Colleges.

This is the first time that tertiary education providers have jointly worked on a project of this scale, and it is hoped that the move will not only benefit students, but will also benefit employers, by ensuring there is a strong pipeline of highly skilled individuals coming into the local workforce.

Colleges offer a wide range of higher-level qualifications, including Level 5 qualifications, foundation degrees and higher national diplomas, as well as higher level apprenticeships.

The Department for the Economy’s recent 10X Skills Strategy highlights the future undersupply of skilled individuals coming through at Level 5.  Many of these work-related qualifications have been co-designed with employers to address skills gaps and provide participants with clear progression routes through to employment or alternatively the opportunity to progress through to a full honours degree with a local university.

Chair of the College Principals’ Group, Ken Webb, said:

“Results day can be a joyous or disappointing occasion for some. To give school leavers confidence to move their careers forward, we have partnered with the universities on this landmark initiative.

“Young people who do not receive their expected grades for university should not lose hope or feel that they must forgo their career aspirations. There are alternative routes to that university degree at the six local colleges and they can still reach their end destination by taking on a higher education course or foundation degree in college first.”

Queen’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ian Greer said:

“Northern Ireland’s third level education sector is world-leading and our universities and colleges equip thousands of people every year with the skills and qualifications they need to pursue valuable careers.

“We understand that this year will cause anxiety for many school leavers. This website will provide detailed information on the extensive range of higher education options at local colleges available to school leavers. As a viable alternative that will help pursue their intended degree course.”

Ulster University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Bartholomew said:

“A shared priority is to enable young people to keep their career ambitions intact and their options open by signposting them to the pathways that can lead to a wide range of degree choices.

“At Ulster University we have a long-established track record in widening participation in and access to higher education. Through our partners in the FE Colleges, we offer well over 100 pathways into a diverse range of Ulster University degree programmes. These alternative routes open up a wealth of options for study and lay the foundations for rewarding careers.”

Minister for the Economy, Paul Frew MLA, said:

“It’s always important that young people are aware of all the options available to them as they leave school and are considering next steps. Studying for a higher education qualification in a further education college is an excellent option for many school leavers who wish to continue their learning journey.

“The new websites provide a one-stop shop setting out the availability of foundation degree and other HE courses at our local colleges and will be a valuable tool for young people who are seeking to continue their pathway to a bright future.”