LCFE, which celebrated 50 years in education in 2013, offers further education courses at Levels 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the National Framework of Qualifications in a range of disciplines including Business, IT, Media, Science, Sports, Childcare, Healthcare, Hairdressing and Beauty, Art and Design, Photography, Fashion and Engineering. The College specialises at Level 5 and 6 of the NFQ and offers over 50 different courses across these areas and has approval to deliver over 100 courses from the DES. In the academic year 2013/2014 the College enrolled over 1,200 full-time and 2,500 part-time learners which makes it one of the largest colleges of further education in the country. The range of programmes offered in the evening have a modular focus and the vast majority of them are accredited apart from the hobby and leisure courses.
The College has expanded and improved its facilities and infrastructure in recent years and this further development of the campus offers a rich educational experience to learners. Its main campus is in the city at Mulgrave Street; it has acquired a new campus in East Limerick at Cappamore, and is actively looking at other alternatives at Mulgrave Street and other parts of the city. The College is developing into a regional college of further education and training and is positioning itself to be the leading player in the FET landscape in Ireland. The national and internationally recognised programmes offered in LCFE are designed to prepare learners for the workplace and, if required by the learner, to offer progression opportunities to higher-level awards in Institutes of Technology (IOTs), Universities and other higher education institutions. Over the years, LCFE has developed extensive progression links with its partners in the region and beyond such as Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT), Institute of Technology, Tralee (ITT), Mary Immaculate College (MIC) and University of Limerick (UL). It has international links with such colleges/bodies as South and City College, Birmingham (SCCB), University of London, City & Guilds, CIBTAC and ITEC.
Robust quality assurance agreements are in place with QQIFETAC and a number of other internationally recognised awarding bodies. Continuous improvement has been the mantra of the College for many years. The College employs approximately 150 teaching staff, 5 administration staff and 10 support staff. LCFE offers a comprehensive guidance counselling service which includes advice on acquiring employment, higher education options and personal counselling to all registered learners. Every effort is made to facilitate applicants with special needs and the college is fully accessible to wheelchair users. Learning support is provided where possible for those experiencing difficulties with specific modules.
Learners at LCFE have access to the Learning Resource Centre which offers use of computers, printers and a library. The e-Dock area offers Wi-Fi and the college canteen offers a good variety of meals and snacks throughout the day. The use of special purpose rooms such as the iMix – LCFE Online Radio Studio, the iMac Lab, computer rooms, the darkroom, fashion room, interior design studio, hair and beauty salons and science laboratories ensure that learners gain experience with relevant and state-of-the art equipment in their course of study. The College continues to push ahead with investment in new facilities and continues to invest time and resources in the core activity of teaching and learning.
Details of an ambitious €250 million plan set to transform the region’s economy over the next two decades were unveiled in the Summer of 2013. Limerick 2030 – An Economic and Spatial Plan has the potential to deliver 5,000 new jobs and sets out a number of objectives to change the infrastructure of the city centre and deliver a whole new vision for Limerick as a leading centre for commercial investment. LCFE made a submission to the Local Authority as part of the consultation for this plan.
Speaking at the launch, Limerick Local Authorities Chief Executive Conn Murray described Limerick 2030 as “a once in a generation plan to guide the economic, social and physical renaissance of Limerick city centre, the wider county and Mid-West region”. The business and academic community is also putting a strong emphasis on embracing Europe and what it has to offer in order to improve and add value to this region. This echoes the importance which this plan puts on working with partners both at home and on a European level in order to connect and create synergies.
The significance of culture to economic development is not lost to the people of the region either. In 2014 Limerick has been designated the first national City of Culture and LCFE is supporting this initiative with events and partnership programmes with other local organisations.
ThIn its early years as the School of Commerce, courses included Junior and Senior classes up to Leaving Certificate standard and a number of Secretarial Courses. In 1980 it diversified to meet the needs of the rapidly expanding vocational preparation area and by 1990 the school had established itself as a key provider of further education courses in the area.
Subsequently, in 1991 the School of Commerce became Limerick Senior College, a name which better reflected the diversity and course provision at the time. In 2008, the College became Limerick College of Further Education (LCFE), a brand that has become synonymous with the provision of high quality further education and training programmes in the Mid-West region.
The College is now breaking new ground by expanding its physical presence to East Limerick and is actively seeking investment for its main campus in Mulgrave Street, as well as looking at other alternatives. A new era in further education is emerging and LCFE is ready to take advantage of this.
The development process has involved staff workshops and briefings, a learner survey, input from industry representatives, strategy facilitation and development with the steering committee and meetings with other stakeholders in the region and nationally.
The plan is the culmination of 15 months of a strategic review and development process that has involved staff at all levels, multiple stakeholders and external experts. The strategy review began in November 2012 with an extensive internal review of performance and achievements based on the previous strategic plan with internal and external stakeholders including staff, industry partners and regional stakeholders. The formulation of this strategic plan involved consultation that took place between July 2013 and December 2013.
A draft plan was circulated to the steering committee, Board of Management, staff and a number of external stakeholders for final feedback and input during December 2013 and January 2014.
LCFE welcomes the opportunities that the new FET structures present and this plan has been designed to meet the needs and challenges facing the College in the next four years. However, it is felt that with this structural reform of the FET Sector must come reform of the operational structures of the FE colleges. Currently funded and administered under a post-primary school model, FE colleges have evolved within the confines of this structure. A new, more flexible model must be designed in order to allow Colleges like LCFE to thrive. This will involve the revision of current models of funding and resourcing the sector, the creation of new roles and functions in terms of management, administration and teaching within the FE college sector, as well as the introduction of other key systems and supports to enhance the learner experience and outcomes. LCFE still places a high value on the recommendations of the McIver Report (January, 2003) many of which are still very relevant to the sector today. LCFE feels that this Report should be revisited, updated and fully implemented by the DES in consultation with the FE Colleges sector.
SOLAS will play a key role in Ireland’s economic recovery through the creation of a world class further education and training sector.1 According to the Department of Education and Skills a revitalised FET (Further Education and Training) sector must promote access for all learners who wish to avail of programmes – the unemployed and the employed, school leavers as well as early school leavers, those with disabilities, job changers and those who want to pursue particular interests through part-time learning.
The new Education and Training Boards have a challenging role to play and LCFE will look to the Limerick and Clare ETB for guidance on policy and research initiatives in FET in Ireland in order for LCFE to fulfill its mission. The new ETBs have an important strategic role in the future development of the FET sector to implement structural change in order for this new FET landscape to meet the requirements of learners, employers and other stakeholders.
This plan is aligned with the strategic plan being devised by Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board which will cover the period 2014 – 2019.
The FET sector is also challenged with continuing budget cuts, including an increase in the pupil teacher ratio (17.1 to 19.1) in 2013, restrictions on staffing levels and the new public service stability agreement 2013 to 2016 (Haddington Road Agreement). The FET sector is well positioned to meet these challenges - “new institutions which are assuming responsibility for all publicly-funded FET provide an opportunity to shape a more coherent and effective system of provision” (NESC, 2013). However, the requirement for FET providers to offer flexible, responsive programmes must be matched with a funding model that meets the needs of this newly structured sector. LCFE’s position is that the existing funding model for further education is outdated and requires a review in light of the significant changes happening across the FET sector. A recent FORFAS report provides evidence of the potential contribution of Further Education in Ireland. Investment and participation have increased significantly and there are now approximately 170,000 learners in a range of part-time and full-time programmes with funding by Department of Education and Skills in 2011 of almost €420 million. 3 Analysis of FETAC statistics show the ETB centres accounted for 146,000 (42 percent) of total QQIFETAC awards in 2010 and that awards from ETB centres increased by 62,000 (73 % since 2007). This represents a significant increase in demand for further education and training programmes in line with the decrease in employment since 2007. It also reflects an increasing emphasis on certification more generally; particularly QQI-FETAC accredited awards, within ETB programmes, in addition to the creation of new awards.4 Consultations have also indicated that there are changing learner profiles (e.g. higher educational attainment than typical participants) in some programmes due to the increase in unemployment, which also has a positive effect on completion and certification levels.
LCFE has demonstrated resilience and an ability to continue to innovate over the period of the last strategic plan and is confident that this new strategic plan will enable it to continue to play an important role in serving the further education and training needs of the Mid-West region.