Reaching the top by the private route
For a long time, the private option was seen as a less challenging or academically rigorous version of third-level, but hard work and innovative thinking has changed that view, and now colleges like Dublin Business School, Griffith College and IBAT are considered at the forefront of student-focused and industry-specific learning.EVERY YEAR it seems the clamouring for college places gets louder. Public universities and institutes of education don’t have infinite space, but for many, a third-level qualification is an absolute essential in today’s job market. Unsurprisingly, the private sector was quick to fill the gap and now there is a wide variety of colleges in Ireland, all hoping to provide students with the leg-up they need to get started in a career.
What this means is that education in the private sector is thriving and is one of the rare success stories in recent years. “First of all,” says Cliona O’Beirne, head of admissions in Dublin Business School, “if you look at our portfolio of courses, there’s something for everyone. We have developed programmes in conjunction with industry, but we’re also developing programmes in new areas where we see a need, such as cloud computing and social media. We’re very innovative, we work with industry to get these programmes to market to keep pace with student and business need.”
The private sector encompasses new and old – IBAT, one of the newest players on the scene, has only been operating for around eight years, while Dublin Business School, now something of an institution, will celebrate 40 years in 2015. Its beginnings were in professional accountancy, but it quickly expanded to offer a broader range of courses. “We’ve been around a long time,” says O’Beirne. “Our roots were in professional accountancy, and we also have traditional programmes like journalism, psychology – we’ve got the same professional recognition as the public sector colleges.”
Likewise, Griffith College, in operation since 1974, places great store on the value of monitoring industry trends. Diarmuid Hegarty, president of the college believes it’s vital to think as long-term as you can when considering your future career.
“People need to be thinking four, maybe even six years ahead. If you’re doing a three-year accountancy degree, you’ll have to do another three before you fully qualify. Ask yourself: what’s the state of accounting likely to be then? When you make your choices, you shouldn’t look at the market today; you need to look further.”
Accreditation in the private sector shouldn’t be a concern. Most are fully accredited by FETAC and qualifications gained in these colleges are as valid as those from any public university. In some cases, private colleges have been well ahead of their public competition: “We were the first to be recognised by the Kings Inns – even before the institutes of technology,” notes Hegarty.
If potential students had concerns about course recognition in the past, those days are long over, according to O’Beirne. “The key thing is that it’s a realistic option for students, especially for high-demand, high-points courses. The outcome is the same: they’re eligible for postgraduate study; we’ve got recognition from the Teaching Council – we’ve got all the same things as the public sector.”
At the beginning, most private colleges specialised in business courses of one type or another. This is still a cornerstone of the private sector, but it is now only one branch of a growing tree. “At the moment, the most popular courses are the likes of psychology and film and media,” says O’Beirne. “Marketing and event management continues to be popular,” she notes, but is quick to flag the private sector’s record on innovation: “We’re also seeing a rise in the likes of cloud computing because that area is really up and coming.”