This page was last modified on 5 January 2016, at 11:24.

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Higher Education

From Eurydice

Jump to: navigation, search

Overview United Kingdom (Northern Ireland)

Contents

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Political, Social and Economic Background and Trends

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Historical Development

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Main Executive and Legislative Bodies

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Population: Demographic Situation, Languages and Religions

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Political and Economic Situation

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation and Governance

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Fundamental Principles and National Policies

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Lifelong Learning Strategy

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of the Education System and of its Structure

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of Private Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:National Qualifications Framework

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Administration and Governance at Central and/or Regional Level

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Administration and Governance at Local and/or Institutional Level

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Statistics on Organisation and Governance

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Funding in Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Early Childhood and School Education Funding

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Higher Education Funding

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Adult Education and Training Funding

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Early Childhood Education and Care

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of Programmes for Children over 2-3 years

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Teaching and Learning in Programmes for Children over 2-3 years

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Assessment in Programmes for Children over 2-3 years

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisational Variations and Alternative Structures in Early Childhood Education and Care

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Primary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of Primary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Teaching and Learning in Primary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Assessment in Primary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisational Variations and Alternative Structures in Primary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Secondary and Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of General Lower Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Teaching and Learning in General Lower Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Assessment in General Lower Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of General Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Teaching and Learning in General Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Assessment in General Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Organisation of Vocational Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Teaching and Learning in Vocational Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Assessment in Vocational Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Types of Higher Education Institutions

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:First Cycle Programmes

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Bachelor

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Short-Cycle Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Second Cycle Programmes

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Programmes outside the Bachelor and Master Structure

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Third Cycle (PhD) Programmes

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Distribution of Responsibilities

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Developments and Current Policy Priorities

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Main Providers

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Main Types of Provision

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Validation of Non-formal and Informal Learning

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Teachers and Education Staff

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Initial Education for Teachers Working in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Conditions of Service for Teachers Working in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Continuing Professional Development for Teachers Working in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Initial Education for Academic Staff in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Conditions of Service for Academic Staff Working in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Continuing Professional Development for Academic Staff Working in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Initial Education for Teachers and Trainers Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Conditions of Service for Teachers and Trainers Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Continuing Professional Development for Teachers and Trainers Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Management and Other Education Staff

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Management Staff for Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Staff Involved in Monitoring Educational Quality for Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Education Staff Responsible for Guidance in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Other Education Staff or Staff Working with Schools

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Management Staff for Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Other Education Staff or Staff Working in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Management Staff Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Other Education Staff or Staff Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Quality Assurance

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Quality Assurance in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Quality Assurance in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Quality Assurance in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Educational Support and Guidance

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Special Education Needs Provision within Mainstream Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Separate Special Education Needs Provision in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Support Measures for Learners in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Guidance and Counselling in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Support Measures for Learners in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Guidance and Counselling in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Support Measures for Learners in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Guidance and Counselling in a Lifelong Learning Approach

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Mobility and Internationalisation

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Mobility in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Mobility in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Mobility in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Other Dimensions of Internationalisation in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Other Dimensions of Internationalisation in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Other Dimensions of Internationalisation in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Bilateral Agreements and Worldwide Cooperation

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Ongoing Reforms and Policy Developments

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:National Reforms in Early Childhood Education and Care

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:National Reforms in School Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:National Reforms in Vocational Education and Training and Adult Learning

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:National Reforms in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:National Reforms related to Transversal Skills and Employability

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:European Perspective

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Legislation

United-Kingdom-Northern-Ireland:Glossary

The definition of higher education, according to Schedule 7 of the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, as applied by Article 30 of the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1993, is: 

‘education provided by means of a course... of a standard higher than the standard of courses leading to General Certificate of Education Advanced-level (GCE A level) or Business and Technology Education Council National Diploma or Certificate‘.

Higher education courses can be provided by HEIs directly funded through the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) or by further education institutions. The article on ‘Types of Higher Education Institutions’ describes these types and the remaining articles in the chapter focussing on the range of programmes and levels of study that feature in the system.

Higher education in Northern Ireland shares a number of characteristics and structural features with higher education in England, Wales and Scotland. In all four parts of the United Kingdom, higher education institutions (HEIs) are autonomous self-governing bodies which offer degrees by virtue of their own degree awarding powers or the degree awarding powers of another institution. These degree awarding powers are recognised by the UK authorities (Northern Ireland and Welsh Assemblies, UK and Scottish Parliaments). Institutions are responsible for appointing and employing their own staff (see the chapter on Teachers and Education Staff). Grants for specific research projects and programmes are administered on a UK-wide basis through the seven UK research councils.

Within the context of institutional autonomy, some common approaches and frameworks are used. There is no system for the accreditation of institutions but the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) makes judgements on UK institutions’ capability to manage their own quality and standards and the UK Quality Code for Higher Education provides the definitive reference point for institutions (see the article on ‘Quality Assurance in Higher Education’). Reflecting these commonalities and shared missions, a number of sector-led bodies operate on behalf of higher education institutions across the UK. These bodies include: 

  • Universities UK (UUK), whose members are the executive heads of UK institutions 
  • GuildHE, which along with UUK is a recognised representative body for higher education in the UK 
  • UCAS, which coordinates applications services across the UK  
  • Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), which collects data from higher education providers to support UK governments and higher education funding bodies in their regulatory and funding work 
  • Higher Education Academy (HEA), which offers accreditation for courses and wider professional development opportunities that support staff who teach and/or support learning
  • Committee of University Chairs (CUC), which represents the chairs of UK university governing bodies and develops and promotes governance standards for higher education in the UK.

There are also a number of differences, particularly in relation to Scotland, which has distinct traditions of higher education. More recently, since the late 1990s, the devolved administrations of Northern Ireland and Wales have had responsibility for education and policies in some areas have diverged. The most notable of these are tuition fees and student support, the funding of institutions and the related governance arrangements. In contrast to England and Wales, the largest component of higher education funding in Northern Ireland is currently provided by direct grants from the funding body, the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL), though the proportion derived from student tuition fees is increasing. Assessment of research continues to be undertaken on a UK-wide basis although there are differences in the way the four UK funding councils use the results to allocate funding for research infrastructure. See the article on ‘Higher Education Funding’. 

Policy Objectives for the Sector 

The Northern Ireland government department with responsibility for higher education is the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL), which in 2012 published two higher education strategy documents that remain in operation:

Graduating to Success: a Higher Education Strategy for Northern Ireland (April 2012) provides a long- term vision for the higher education sector in Northern Ireland and sets out the direction for higher education policy up to 2020. It aims for the sector to be recognised for:  

  • its ability to equip individuals with the distinctive range and quality of skills and attributes needed for an increasingly competitive international workplace  
  • its excellence in research  
  • its willingness to work in partnership with industry to promote knowledge transfer and drive innovation  
  • the professionalism of its teaching and its commitment to quality  
  • its support for students and its fairness in maximising opportunities for all who are able to benefit  
  • its accessibility to learners and its engagement with local communities, contributing to their regeneration, diversity and sustainability  
  • its flexibility in responding to the needs of learners and other stakeholders, including business  
  • its willingness to engage globally  
  • the rigour of its governance.  

The document also sets out how DEL and the higher education sector would give effect to the vision for higher education. For the first phase of implementation, sixteen projects were identified to provide the first steps.   

Following this, Access to Success (September 2012) was published, outlining an integrated strategy for widening participation in higher education in Northern Ireland, which is a key strategic goal for DEL. Key actions include the expansion of programmes in schools, colleges, workplaces and the community aimed at raising aspiration and attainment.  

In September 2015, DEL launched the ‘Big Conversation’, a consultation on the future sustainability of the higher education system in the context of public spending constraints. The consultation is addressing the skills needs of the economy, the quality and accessibility of higher education and funding matters: sources of funding, the operation and repayment of student loans, and Northern Ireland’s funding model compared with models used in other education systems. Following its conclusion DEL intends to present a range of options for the future of higher education.

For an overview of recent shifts and trends in higher education in Northern Ireland, see the Universities UK publication Patterns and Trends in UK Higher Education 2015, the latest in a series which provides a summary of annual statistical data about the UK higher education sector in the context of the trends of the previous decade.

Legislative Framework

Higher education, other than the Research Councils’ funding of research, is a ‘devolved’ area, which means that most decisions that are made about higher education in Northern Ireland are taken by the Northern Ireland Assembly.  

Higher education institutions in Northern Ireland are autonomous self-governing bodies. The structure of programmes is not regulated by law. Subject to the status of their degree-awarding powers, higher education institutions are free to design and offer such programmes and awards as they wish. However, all institutions structure their programmes along broadly similar lines (a three cycle framework), which conforms to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) qualifications framework. 

Quality assurance is not regulated by law. Higher education institutions are responsible for the approval of their own programmes and for ensuring that appropriate standards are achieved. They are judged on how well they fulfil these responsibilities and the effectiveness of their processes by the QAA (see the article on ‘Quality Assurance in Higher Education’). The main reference point for the QAA’s review work is the UK Quality Code for Higher Education. The Quality Code sets out the expectations that all providers of UK higher education are required to meet and provides them with a shared starting point for setting, describing and assuring the academic standards of their higher education awards and programmes and the quality of the learning opportunities they provide.

Public funds for teaching and research infrastructure are distributed by DEL. The current arrangements for tuition fees for full-time undergraduate (first cycle) students were introduced in 2006 under the Higher Education Act 2004. In England, changes to the regulations prescribing the maximum annual amount for tuition fees led to a significant rise in fees from 2012, but in Northern Ireland fees were ‘frozen’ subject only to inflationary rises. The maximum first cycle fee in Northern Ireland in 2015/16 is £3,805, in contrast to £9,000 in England. Fees for postgraduate (second and third cycle) students are not regulated. See the article on ‘Higher Education Funding’. 

Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ)

Although not required by law to do so, all institutions design their qualifications in accordance with the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FHEQ, available here), developed by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) and which forms part of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education. The FHEQ is intended to promote consistency across the sector by facilitating a shared and common understanding of the expectations associated with typical qualifications and ensuring that qualifications with the same titles are of an equivalent academic standard.

The fundamental premise of the FHEQ is that qualifications should be awarded on the basis of achievement of outcomes and attainment rather than years of study. 

The five levels of the FHEQ are numbered 4–8 (levels 1–3 are allocated to levels of education which precede higher education).

Qualification descriptors illustrate the distinct level of intellectual achievement for each level of the framework. These qualification descriptors describe the threshold academic standard for those qualification types in terms of the levels of knowledge and understanding and the types of abilities that holders of the relevant qualification are expected to have.

Subject benchmark statements make explicit the nature and characteristics of awards in a specific subject area and set out the attributes and capabilities of graduates in that subject. They exemplify what the generic outcomes set out in the qualification descriptors in the FHEQ might look like in practice.

The main types of qualifications are illustrated in the following table.

FHEQ Level Corresponding FQ-EHEA cycle Typical higher education qualifications within each level
8 Third cycle (end of cycle) qualifications Doctoral degrees (eg. PhD/DPhil, EdD, DBA, DClinPsy)
7 Second cycle (end of cycle) qualifications

Master's degrees (eg. MPhil, MLitt, MRes, MA, MSc)

Integrated master's degrees (eg. MEng, MChem, MPhys, MPharm)

Primary qualifications (or first degrees) in medicine, dentistry and veterinary science (eg. MB, ChB, MB BS, BM BS, BDS, BVSc, BVMS)

7

Postgraduate diplomas

Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) / Postgraduate Dimploma in Education (PGDE)

Postgraduate certificates

6 First cycle (end of cycle) qualifications

Bachelor's degree with honours (eg. BA/BSc Hons)

Bachelor's degrees

6

Professional Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE)

Graduate dimplmas

Graduate certificates

5 Short cycle (within or linked to the first cycle) qualifications

Foundation Degrees (eg. FdA, FdSc)

Diplomas of Higher Education (DipHE)

Higher National Diplomas (HND)

4

Higher National Certificates (HNC)

Certificates of Higher Education (CertHE)

(Adapted from QAA (2014). The Frameworks for Higher Education Qualifications of UK Degree-Awarding Bodies, page 17)


The FHEQ has been self-certified as compatible with the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area (FQ-EHEA). Information including the 2009 report of the FHEQ advisory group is available here.

Note that the FHEQ is not a credit framework; for a description of the use of credit in higher education, see the subsection ‘Branches of Study’ in the article ‘Bachelor’.

Structure of the Academic Year

The structure of the academic year is not regulated by law. However, for funding and reporting purposes, the academic year runs from 1 August to 31 July.

The teaching year typically starts in late September/early October and ends in mid to late June. The year is traditionally divided by breaks into three teaching terms, although some institutions organise teaching along a two-semester system. A small number of institutions offer accelerated degrees which require student attendance for longer periods during the year.

For postgraduate (second and third cycle) students, the organisation of time varies. Where a taught master's programme has a duration of one year, this normally means a full calendar year, e.g. October to October. 

Teaching typically takes place between 9.00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m., from Monday to Friday, but may take place at other times. Part-time courses may be offered during the day or in the evening. 


Information on legislation referenced in articles about Northern Ireland is available here. A glossary of terms can be found here.