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We Attempt To Decipher Further Education in Northern Ireland

Hopefully this brief guide will help make some sense of the baffling array of departments and agencies that comprise the FE sector in Northern Ireland. Currently, there are 16 Further Education colleges, with the Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education being easily the biggest. Latest figures estimate that there are around 87,000 full and part-time students enrolled on vocational courses, with a corresponding 1,703 full-time and 3,068 part-time FE lecturers.

The Funding Body

The Department for Employment and Learning is responsible for both the financing and strategic development of the sector, in addition to supporting a number of private organisations. Among those private organisations supported by the department are the Workers Education Association (WEA), a voluntary organisation that provides a range of adult education opportunities, as well as the Educational Guidance Service for Adults (EGSA) which provides advice and guidance for adult learners.

The Inspecting Body

Northern Ireland inspections are conducted by the Education and Training Inspectorate, under the leadership of Chief Inspector Marion Matchett. Their remit covers schools, colleges and other grant-aided organisations, and they report directly to the Department for Employment and Learning, as well as the Department of Education and Skills in Whitehall.

The Others

In addition to these government departments, there are many other agencies and organisations involved in Further Education in various ways. Since 1998, FE colleges in Northern Ireland have been “free-standing incorporated bodies”, meaning that management responsibility now lies with each college’s own Governing Body. They are represented by the Association of Northern Ireland Colleges (ANIC), which is also a useful resource for information and advice about the colleges in Northern Ireland for everyone in the sector. Students have their own representative body in the organisation nistudents.org which, from what I can gather, is a good old-fashioned protest group and offers support and advice to the oft-forgotten students.

Ultimately, perhaps not surprisingly with only 16 colleges, these are the main players. However, there are many UK-wide organisations that cover Northern Ireland in their area of interest. Most important is the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) which aims to improve post-16 education through research and by providing support programmes to colleges and trainers. Finally, the Association of Learning Providers is the voice of independent learning providers throughout the UK and operates in Northern Ireland. The organisation works with policy makers and funding agencies to represent its members views. One of the major independent learning providers operating in Northern Ireland is Learndirect which delivers many of its courses via the internet.

Alex Moore

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