The Government wants universities and colleges on both sides of the Border to forge closer links to help respond to skills gaps in crucial areas of the economy.
Niall Collins, Minister of State for Skills and Further Education, said there were shortages of qualified workers in key sectors on the island of Ireland.
However, he said there were opportunities to deploy our skills, training and labour market on an all-island basis to benefit both sides of the Border.
“While there is already strong co-operation and interaction between the higher and further education and research institutions across the island, which the Government is proud to support, we want to see that grow in the period immediately ahead,” he said.
Mr Collins was speaking at the latest Shared Island Dialogue event, which was launched by the Taoiseach last year and aimed at fostering “constructive and inclusive dialogue” with all communities and traditions.
As an example of increased co-operation, he cited the Government’s new plan to expand apprenticeships, which include developing new cross-Border apprenticeship programmes which could enhance both jurisdictions’ ability to respond to skills needs, as an all-island economy.
More than 140 students, parents, teachers and education experts came together to discuss how access to education and educational outcomes on a shared island can be advanced in the coming years.
Panel discussions focused on enhancing education accessibility, matching skills needs with opportunities, and addressing educational underachievement on the island.
There were calls, for example, for students to have access to an Erasmus-style programme which would allow them to study on both sides of the Irish Border.
In addition, Letterkenny IT (LYIT) president Paul Hannigan highlighted how a cross-Border cluster of education institutions in the northwest is boosting access to education for locals.
The grouping – which includes LYIT, Ulster University, North West Regional College and Donegal Education and Training Board – is working together to provide better planning and organisation of programmes, allowing for differentiated offerings, greater impact through pooling of effort and development of shared services.
While educational attainment levels have traditionally been lower in the Border area, he said there has been a dramatic change over recent years.
Prof Ian Greer, vice chancellor of Queen's University Belfast, also underlined how innovative access programmes were allowing more students to access university in flexible ways. There was an opportunity to expand these models to other institutions, he said.
Minister for Education Norma Foley also launched a new research partnership with the Standing Conference on Teacher Education North and South.
This new research programme will focus on educational underachievement and will cover a range of teaching and learning themes for teachers on curriculum delivery.