The importance of QQI institutional reviews for students

We look at the academic, practical, and financial factors students should consider before deciding on a college or course
Tue, Jan 15, 2019, 00:00
Peter McGuire
from the Irish Times

Is a college education worth the cost?

Going to college isn’t cheap. First, there’s the cost of registration fees, currently capped at €3,000. Then students need to shell out for books, accommodation, transport, food and drink. Add in the cost of deferring full-time work for at least three years, even if the payback is better long-term employment prospects.

And this is before students even factor in the amount of public money necessary to support our colleges, universities and colleges of further education. Of course, these institutions are absolutely necessary to generate knowledge, critically examine the universe we live in and equip graduates with the skills they need for employment. But are we getting value for money from them, and what questions should prospective students ask to see if the higher-education sector is doing enough to ensure better outcomes?

Academic quality

When students are filling out the CAO form, or looking at their options for further education, how can they be sure their courses are of good quality? As it happens, this is closely monitored in Ireland.

Dr Padraig Walsh is chief executive of Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), which promotes and regulates quality in the further- and higher-education sectors.

“We issue quality assurance guidelines on what the institution is expected to put in place: what a programme should consist of; how students can have an input into the various modules and be involved in the college’s governance; and how they assure the quality of their offering such as by involving external examiners, periodic evaluations and institutional reviews,” he explains.

Once every six years, QQI organises an institutional review, which explores the quality of its offering. Within each of these, the quality body will issue five recommendations where the institution can improve, and commend it in five areas where there are examples of good practice. In addition, each institution is required to submit an annual institutional quality report.
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“My daughter is a second-year law student in UCD and I sent her the institutional review in advance of her going, so she could get a feel for what it’s like to study there,” says Walsh. “A previous review said that there was not enough project-based assessment, and I understand that the university has made adjustments since.”

Is the university or college well run?

Let’s face it, these annual quality reports, published on the QQI website, aren’t the most exciting reading for your average sixth-year student. But, even if they’re never opened by prospective students, they do contain reassuring information. There are details there of how the institutions are governed, the research taking place in them, how students can transfer from one programme to another and the continuous professional development undertaken by lecturers.

Jim Miley is director general of the Irish Universities Association, which represents the seven universities in the Republic of Ireland. He points out that core State funding has fallen from €9,000 per student in 2009 to just €5,000 today, which is less than half of what is spent in top-performing European countries.

“There have been marginal increases in the last two budgets but they’re barely keeping pace with the growth in student numbers,” he says. “There hasn’t been a massive impact on students, however. Universities have taken in more international students, who pay higher fees, and also achieved efficiencies in the system. But there are no more efficiencies to squeeze out, and there is a risk that, unless we address some of the current gaps, it could take decades to recover.”

The 2018 Irish survey of student engagement, which interviewed more than 38,000 students across 27 higher-education institutions, suggests students are broadly happy with quality. When asked to rate their entire educational experience, 82 per cent said it was either good or excellent, while 85 per cent said they would go to the same institution if given a chance to start again.

Student accommodation

Miley says the last decade has seen substantial investment in student accommodation but there remains pressure due to the growing number of students.

The Host Student Accommodation under construction in Dublin’s Docklands. Photograph: Alan Betson
The Host Student Accommodation under construction in Dublin’s Docklands. Photograph: Alan Betson

Indeed, accommodation is now a significant consideration for students when deliberating their college choices. Many of the new units have been built by large property firms and kitted out as “luxury” accommodation, with costs of between €1,000-€1,500 a month. Students’ unions, including the Union of Students in Ireland, have accused private firms and universities of using students as “cash cows”.

Last year at DCU, students protested after rents at Shanowen Square surged by 27 per cent, with the college’s president, Brian MacCraith, notably coming out in support of the students. At NUI Galway, rents went up by 18 per cent at one student accommodation block. Rents at UCD have also climbed in recent years. There’s little genuine competition in the market and little option for students but to fork out or stay at home.

In 2018, a survey from the Irish League of Credit Unions found the number of students living at home had risen from 63 per cent to 69 per cent as a result of the high cost and low availability of accommodation.

Student life

Outside the accommodation sphere, section seven of the annual reports to QQI focus specifically on student support services, including counselling, accommodation, careers development, sports, societies and the students’ union, and they can provide useful information to people choosing their college course.

DCU is one university which has developed a student charter outlining what students can expect, including a comprehensive orientation programme to help students settle into university life, to be made aware of the appropriate and accessible resources to help them take responsibility for their learning, and to be offered “a dynamic range of opportunities to enhance personal and professional development”.

The charter also outlines what the university expects of students in return, including that they take responsibility for their own learning, that they explore the range of extra-curricular activities available at DCU and that they respect and embrace the diversity of the staff and student population.

Making choices

“Choosing a further- or higher-education college shouldn’t be based on one single factor,” Dr Padraig Walsh advises. “When you decide on a holiday or a restaurant, you might look at the star rating, Trip Advisor and other review sites. This isn’t as straightforward when choosing where to go after school, because students will necessarily have a mix of priorities including, for instance, whether they can travel there and what size the institution is. Quality evaluations would never be the only source, but we do hope that we can add to the quality of the institutions and how they engage with their students.”

Does the private sector offer value for money?

Don’t discount the fee-paying colleges when making your choice, but do choose carefully.

Griffith College, Dublin, has an excellent reputation. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
Griffith College, Dublin, has an excellent reputation. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Many of the private colleges – or “independent”, as they prefer to be called – have earned their stripes and have worked hard to build up a good reputation, with the daddy of them all, Griffith College, looming large. DBS also has a good course offering. St Nicholas Montessori College is the place to train as a Montessori teacher, while Hibernia College’s teacher training courses are hugely respected.

For all this, however, a small number of independent colleges have been dogged with quality issues in a way that hasn’t beset publicly-funded organisations. Given that students can shell out up to twice the registration fee, they need to make sure they’re getting value for money.

While QQI doesn’t issue degrees in publicly-funded higher-education institutions, it is the awarding body for independent, privately-funded, fee-paying colleges. If a fee-paying college isn’t up to scratch, QQI can revoke their accreditation.

In 2010, the still-operational American College Dublin pulled a psychology course mid-stream after the Psychological Society of Ireland withdrew accreditation following serious concerns about its overall quality; the college has engaged with QQI and currently has just two of its level 8 courses accredited by the body. In 2016, QQI withdrew accreditation from four courses at the Grafton Academy of Management Sciences. And in 2017, following serious concerns about quality, QQI removed validation from all of the business programmes at private college IBAT.

Diarmuid Hegarty, president of Griffith College and a towering figure in the independent college sector, says it’s always important for any school-leaver to check whether a course at an independent college is QQI-accredited. If not, the degree may not be recognised by employers in Ireland, as it suggests they haven’t met minimum standards. If they’re accredited by another external body instead of QQI, there may be a good reason, but students should proceed with extreme caution.

Membership of the Higher Education Colleges Association ( may also be a benchmark for quality. This organisation applies minimum standards to courses run by its constituent members.

Ulster Uni


What is QQI?

If you are searching for training in Ireland you may notice the above logo appearing beside the words QQI certified or certified by QQI, but who are QQI?

“On 6 November 2012, FETAC completed its amalgamation with HETAC, NQAI and IUQB and a new integrated agency, Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), was established. FETAC, HETAC and the NQAI are now dissolved. The new agency will continue to provide continuity of service as it evolves. QQI will bring any changes and updates to your attention over the coming weeks on its website” Source: ( )

It’s very important to note whether the course you are taking is certified by this new awarding body and to familiarize yourself with the new QQI logo.

There is also an updated National framework of Qualifications (NFQ)

NFQ_fan (630kb) NFQ_fan (2mb)




5 useful things Google can do (and a couple of useless ones)

Lets face it, Google is helpful. I sometimes ponder about life before Google, about those arguments with friends that used to last days or those pub quizzes where only the geography buff knew the capital of Indonesia. Google is something familiar, a way of life (of sorts) and having great search skills can really open you up to a universe of useful and useless information.

Here are some things you might not have known Google can do.

1. Google is a translator


2. Google is a currency converter


3. Google is a calculator


4. Google is a Weight converter


5. Google is a timer


Did you know there is a hidden game inside Google called “ZERG RUSH”?

Search Zerg rush in Google to start a hidden game, quickly click the incoming 0’s to kill them before they destroy your search results.


Google will also tell you what time sunrise is at!


So there you have it, some things to explore in your next searches. Remember, there is a universe of information out there and your search engine is your vehicle. Learning how to correctly search and developing your search skills will greatly increase your chances of finding the information you want.

Keep on searching

Keith Byrne

Digital media manager

NCU Training


How to share files with Google drive

As we know Google drive is a great place to store your files online for easy access from any location, but what if you wanted to share the files stored in your drive? In this tutorial I will discuss two ways you can share the files stored on your Google drive.

Sharing files is a very useful feature built in to your Google drive, you might ask why? well imagine a job opportunity arises that requires immediate action. But wait! your CV is at home on your computer! not to worry there’s hope, you have a copy of your CV on your Google drive. Logging in on any computer will give you access to your Drive and to your files. You can share your files in two ways that only differ mildly.

  1. Sharing directly from your Drive: This essentially means that the file remains in your Drive and you share access to the file with the recipient. You can share with multiple recipients at once, set permissions (who can edit, who can read etc) and monitor who has downloaded the file.
  2. Attaching files from your drive to an email: In much the same way as you might attach a file from your computer to your email you can attach files from your Drive as an email attachment. (you will be given to option here to either share from your drive or send as attachment)

1. Sharing directly from your Drive

Access your drive from the Google apps symbol (small grid of black squares in the right hand corner) and click Drive. Once in your Drive, tick the little box on the left of the file you want to share (tick multiple boxes to share more than one file at a time)

Then click on the share button top middle left.

share button

once you click this you will then see the share box appear with options for sharing this file. The highlighted blue text is the address directly to the file.

share box

The middle text will show you who has access to the file already. If you click the mouse in to the box under where it says invite people you will see more options appear.

share box option arrow

You can type in the email address or addresses in to the invite people box (for multiple address separate with a comma). You can edit the permissions for the recipient/recipients with the drop down options. You can add a personal message if you want to but not necessary and you also have options to send a copy of the email to yourself or paste the actual file in to an email to send. When you are finished you can click send to send. You can go back in to this box after you have send to edit the permissions etc if needed.

NOTE* If you delete a file from your Drive it will in turn effect your share options and people you’ve shared it with will not be able to get the file after it’s gone.

2. Attaching files from your drive to an email

From the main Google page, click on the apps icon (small grid of black squares in the right hand corner). Click on Gmail icon. When in your Gmail click on compose on the left hand side at the top of the page. A little box will open in the bottom right hand corner of your page. Enter the email you wish to send the file to, the subject and your email message. At the bottom of this email window you will see a small paper clip icon (this is the attachments icon and is used to add attachments directly from your computer) If you hover over this icon you will see the Google Drive icon appear.

insert files drive

Clicking this will bring up your Drive attachment options box

drive window gmailYou have lots of attachment options here and you can go the traditional attachment route by adding it from your computer if you wish but clicking on the Drive option on the left hand side will allow you to add files from your Drive.

files screenYou then select the file or files (holding the CTRL key whilst clicking files will allow you select more than one, this works elsewhere also) then you can click insert. You might get a dialogue box saying you haven’t shared this item on your Drive but you can click add anyway and it will add your files directly to the email. You can now click send and find the nearest person to high five! You are now a Google drive sharing ninja.


What is Google drive and how do I use it?

In short, Google drive is Google’s cloud storage platform. You might have heard the words “cloud storage” before and been confused but these are just marketing buzz words. Cloud storage simply means that instead of your files being stored on your home computer, they are stored in a remote location on one of Google’s computers or servers. There is nothing new here really if you’ve had an email account with Google or any third party (hotmail etc), your emails are already stored outside of your home computer. This is why you can access your emails from anywhere.


In the diagram we have three devices in different locations all able to access the same files because they are stored on the Google server.

Having your files stored externally has many benefits.

  • You can access your files from any computer / smartphone / Tablet
  • You can recover your files easily (if your computer is stolen or gets broken)
  • You can free up space on your home computer (every Google account comes with 15GB cloud storage but you can add more if you need it for a small fee)

Google drive sounds great, but how do I use it?

To start with Google drive is part of Google’s apps so you are going to need a Google account. To sign up for a Google account go to and look in the right hand corner. Click Sign in.


Once you’ve clicked sign in you will be taken to a sign in page, below this it will say create an account


You can then fill out the form to create an account. Once you have this done you will have access to Google services. Go back to Google homepage and click on the small grid of black squares.


this will open Google’s app panel and you can click on the Google drive icon.


Once inside Google drive there are a number of things you can do.


If your internet browser is Google chrome you can upload whole folders of files otherwise you will have to upload on a file by file basis. Documents created inside of Google drive will auto-save which is a very handy feature if your doing a CV, college work etc as you will never lose work again. You can also export the file to Microsoft word for some more intense editing if needed.

This should get you started with Google drive. In the next Blog post I will cover sharing files from your drive and also how to attach files from your drive to an email and send.




Digital skills tips for job seekers.

We can often get caught up in making sure our CV’s and cover letters are looking great. We live in a digital world and employers are using the internet and internet technologies to research potential employees. This could be anything from viewing a Twitter feed for red flags, a Facebook page (if public), LinkedIn, YouTube, the list goes on. Here are a few things to consider.

Start by searching your name in Google: This is where your potential employer will probably start so pre-empting this with a couple of search combinations would be a good idea. It might be an idea to do this from another computer as you probably have pages stored in your history that will influence your searches. Search your name and see what comes up, see if you can get to your Facebook page from a search (like “your name Facebook” or “your name Dublin Facebook”) try different combinations and note the ways you got to your personal pages and what is visible on them. This will then help you to determine what is public and what is private on your social pages.

Set up an email specifically for your job seeking: You might not think it is important but the email address you send your CV from is very important. When a potential employer receives an email, try not to send it from that email address you set up when you were 16. Setting up an email specifically for your job seeking will not only gather all your job-seeking activities under one heading but will look much better and more professional.

Less of more of

If you choose Google as your email provider you will have access to 15 GB of free storage via Google drive. This can work well as a cloud storage location for all your cover letters and CV’s and give you access to them from any computer. This makes it easier should an opportunity arise that needs a speedy response.

Keep your social media pages as private as possible:  When you set up a Facebook page it’s important to remember to set your privacy settings (the default is public for new pages). A potential employer could quite easily decide to research your social media activities and the last thing you want is your new boss seeing the aftermath of that bottle of vodka you drank on Saturday night. Be as careful as possible when posting anything that might go against a company’s view or might be used as a negative against an application.

For instance: posting about a Shell oil spillage that killed 1000’s of sea birds whilst having an open job application with Topaz (Shell re-branded as Topaz in Ireland in 2008)

Research the company you are applying for: The internet is an amazing resource for research. If you apply for a job with a company, find the company on Facebook and twitter. See the kinds of things they post about and inform yourself about the company through their website. Gather as much information as possible about them so that if you do get called for interview you are prepared for the “why do you want to work for…” or “What do you know about our business…” questions.

For a list of the toughest interview questions click here

Keep up to date: Try to stay as up to date as possible with changes to existing technologies and new technologies. Be informed and maintain your digital skills because they are a great asset to you. Be aware of the free services available to you (like Google drive etc) and use them to your advantage because others are.

The verge is a great place to keep up on new technologies and news.

Forbes technology section is also good for tech news.


Good luck out there.

Keith Byrne

NCU Training


Pathways to work events

We have two events in the coming weeks that NCU will be attending and giving information out about our courses and answering any questions you might have. The events are held by Department of social protection under their pathways to work initiative , an employment, training and guidance scheme.

The first event will be on Tuesday the 27th of May in the Bracken court hotel, Balbriggan from 10:30am to 15:45pm

The second is being held on Thursday the 5th of June in the Ashbourne Community centre, Ashbourne Co. Meath from 10:00am to 4.00pm.

So if you are looking at one of our courses and are attending one of these events, we will be available to answer any questions. We look for ward to meeting you.


Get online week

Get online week is an annual digital empowerment campaign that promotes the use of digital technologies and learning digital skills. Having even basic digital skills will afford you a world of opportunity and the ability to become self sufficient in your learning. With so many great resources online, it is important to be aware of technologies that exist and how to access them.


Every nine jobs out of ten today presumes digital skills of one standard or another” – Pat Rabbitte

At NCU Training, we know the importance of Digital skills. Over the past few years we have been offering free Digital skills training so people can get online and start using technology to their advantage. We are all about digital empowerment and we have helped over 2100 people get online and start gaining Digital skills in the past two years alone.

If you are interested in taking a free Digital skills course with us you can call 01-8479463 to book a place.

Some of the course topics include:

  • Google services (Search, Email, Maps, Drive, YouTube, translate etc..)
  • Banking online
  • Government services online (motor tax, personal tax, local services etc..)

If you are interested in finding out more about Get Online Week you will find all the details on their website here

More websites worth looking at:

Grand Coalition for Digital jobs

Our free Digital skills course

Vice-President Neelie Kroes says digital literacy and e-skills are the new literacy


Universal Job competencies

In my travels around the internet I came upon a very interesting list of six core competencies that Microsoft look for in prospective employees. These are general competencies that could really be applied to any prospective position. As a Jobseeker It is useful to get a little insight in to the competencies that companies look for when searching for new employees, and this can help you prepare better for interviews.


Adaptability – Demonstrates curiosity and actively explores options. Responds efficiently to changing demands and circumstances. Functions effectively in ambiguous situations. Maintains a constructive attitude in times of stress.

Collaboration – Drives alignment and teamwork within a team, department, or across organizational boundaries. Combines resources and joins efforts to achieve company-wide goals.

Drive for Results – Tenaciously pursues positive outcomes by using effective approaches to solve problems. Delivers on commitments and seeks increasingly challenging work. Takes responsibility and holds others accountable for actions, decisions, and goals.

Influencing for Impact – Communicates and networks effectively. Successfully persuades and influences others.

Judgment – Effectively scopes problems. Builds and applies a job-relevant knowledge base. Makes decisions with conviction.

Customer Focus – Anticipates customer needs, and proactively meets and exceeds customer expectations. Recognizes the issues that customers want to resolve, and creates, or facilitates the creation of, products and services to address customer needs.



5 tips for safer food preparation at home.

As a food hygiene tutor I am passionate about creating awareness for safer food preparation both at home and in the workplace. With some simple do’s and don’ts you can avoid a trip to the hospital and learn how to create a safer environment for you to make your food.

Today my 5 tips are aimed toward using the microwave.


Over 90% of food poising cases occur at home, one of the contributing factors to this is improper use of the microwave. The heating of food in the microwave is a cause of major concern in Ireland.


Read the instructions on the packet. This is the first and most important step. We need to know whether the food needs to be cooked completely or just reheated, whether it can be cooked in a microwave or needs a conventional oven, cooking time and wattage. (generally your wattage is displayed on your microwave, if not consult the manual.)


To make best use of the microwave and to heat the food properly and evenly, heat your food in short bursts. For instance if the packet says 4 mins, put in for 2.


Make sure to take the product out and stir it thouroughly.

4.Continue heating

Put the product back in for the rest of the time needed.

5.Let it stand

Once the product is thouroughly heated through, leave it stand for 1 minute before consuming.