Review of further education delivery model

The six further education (FE) colleges in Northern Ireland are arms-length bodies of the Department for the Economy and have a key role in delivering a range of academic, professional and technical education and training across Northern Ireland.

Role of colleges

Colleges are the primary providers of mainstream further education provision, Traineeships, Higher Level Apprenticeships, Apprenticeships NI, Training for Success, and Skills for Life and Work, as well as delivering elements of higher education provision through to degree and post-graduate level.

The colleges also play an important role in supporting businesses and addressing their skills needs through the delivery of re-skilling and up-skilling programmes. They work with businesses of all sizes to design and deliver bespoke training in a flexible way which meets their specific needs.

In order to ensure that colleges are properly structured and resourced to fulfil their role, the Minister has approved the first stage of a Review of the current FE Delivery Model.  This will include the commissioning of an external consultant, Tribal to gather information on the current financial performance across the sector in order to help decide how we move forward. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why is this review taking place now?

FE colleges operate in a rapidly changing environment and need to be able to adapt to meet the evolving needs of learners and of the economy.  Colleges will be critical to delivering the skills needed to deliver the department’s new 10X Economic Vision and the draft 10X Skills Strategy and it is important that they are properly structured and are provided with the resources they need to deliver that role.

Over recent years, the numbers of learners enrolling in colleges has dropped substantially from 153,088 in 2016/17 to 97,532 in 2020/21. While we anticipate an increase in enrolments as we come out of the COVID pandemic, for the sector to deliver on the Department’s strategic objectives and for it to remain sustainable, it needs to present an attractive option for learners, whether they are young people leaving school or adults seeking to build on their existing skillsets.

The current six college delivery model has many strengths including the ability to tailor provision to meet the specific needs of learners and employers in local areas. However, the sector also needs to have the ability to act quickly and decisively and to develop its curriculum in a coordinated way to focus on those areas where skills are most needed. The department is now seeking to gather evidence to inform decisions about the future structure and resourcing of the sector to ensure it remains fit for purpose and is able to meet the needs of learners and of the economy.

How will the Review be carried out?

There will be two main aspects to this initial stage of the Review –

  1. A “Quantitive” strand which will comprise the work which Tribal is taking forward to establish an evidence base for the review through an examination of the current performance of the sector; and
  2. A “Qualitative” engagement process which will seek to capture the initial views of stakeholders.  This work will begin to explore with both colleges and external stakeholders how they see the current role of the colleges changing over the next ten years. 

This initial phase of the review will focus mainly on collecting the evidence needed to inform decisions on how the broader review should be taken forward.  It will be primarily focussed on the work which Tribal is taking forward along with some exploratory engagement with colleges and with other stakeholders on their current view of the sector’s role.

Once Tribal produce their report, which is due in Summer 2022 the department will bring forward proposals on how the Review should be taken forward.

Will colleges close as a result of the Review? How will the Review affect my job?

The department recognises that college staff will have concerns on how the review will impact on their college and on their own posts.  It is important to reiterate clearly that at this stage, approval has only been given to take forward this initial information gathering stage of the review. 

It is also important to emphasise that in beginning this exercise, the Department does not have a preferred or predetermined outcome in mind.  Our aim is to ensure colleges have the support they need to continue to deliver improved outcomes for learners and for the economy. 

Once Tribal produce their Report, the department will consider the evidence collected and will make recommendations to the Minister on how the Review should be taken forward including how best to take on board the views of staff at all levels within colleges as well as other stakeholders. 

If the decision is made to progress with the Review, engagement will be critical to informing the future role and structure of the sector and the Department would encourage all staff to take all opportunities to engage in the decision making process at that time. 

How will the views of college staff be facilitated?

Once this initial stage has been completed the department will write to colleges to provide an update on how we are intending to move forward. If the decision is made to progress with the Review, we will also advise how we will facilitate opportunities for all staff across colleges to provide their views. 

What is the timescale for the Review?

This initial phase of the Review is expected to take approximately six months and is expected to complete in mid-2022.  

How will college staff be kept updated?

During this initial phase of the review updates will be posted via this website. Once this initial phase has been completed, the department will write again to college staff to let them know how this work is being progressed. This correspondence will include details of how staff can provide their views.



Back to top