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)




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.


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


NCU Training is now an ICPA bonded member


We are Delighted to announce that we are now bonded members of the ICPA. We are one of only seven bonded training centres in the country and are very proud to be included. We are however more exited about what the bond means for our students. Anyone wishing to come on a course with us can be safe in the knowledge that their fees are protected.

What it means for the learner.

In the past few years six private colleges have dramatically collapsed, abandoning thousands of students and leaving them with no prospect of recovering their fees – estimated to have run into millions and affecting Irish and international students.

It is difficult to explain and therefore hard to help students, particularly international students, understand that when they part with their money to take a course of study with a private college that has been officially registered and approved by the Irish government that the fees they paid are always at risk and that the Irish state takes no responsibility for these fees.

The ICPA Bond scheme addresses this situation in an extremely effective way and eliminates the dreadful consequences that can arise when a college suddenly fails. It is relevant for both international and Irish students.

The ICPA mutual Bond scheme is the first scheme of its kind to have been developed in any country in the developed world.

This fact was attested by the top accountancy firms who were invited in 2011 to tender for the development of a mutual Bond scheme and who could not identify a similar scheme in any other country.

Over 60 private colleges made enquiries about the ICPA scheme and below are the first tranche of approved colleges:

The Open College

Pulse College,

NCU Training,

The Learning Institute,

English Language Academy,

Martha McGinn Training,

Montessori Education Centre.

These colleges are now fully bonded when offering courses longer than 12 weeks duration awarded by the Qualifications Authority of Ireland (QQI) and are authorised to use the official ICPA Bonded logo:


For more details about the Bond scheme or the ICPA please contact: Richard Whelan                                                                              Harry Walsh Independent Chairman                                                                     CEO Tel: 087 7411711                                                                         086 8034989