The short cycle has played an important role in higher education in Ireland since the 1970s. Programmes are primarily delivered through the public institutes of technology, though a growing number of private providers also offer them. These lead to the award of the Higher Certificate, with 120 ECTS credits. The major fields of study are business and technical.
The National Framework of Qualifications, established in 2003, defined the generic learning outcomes associated with the Higher Certificate. Most Higher Certificates are awarded by the Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC) which is also the quality assurance agency for higher education outside the universities. HETAC has also established standards for some specific disciplines such as engineering, science, computing and art and design. Even within these standards however there is considerable latitude for individual programmes to be tailored to specific local and sectoral needs.
Many Higher Certificate holders progress to awards at higher levels in the framework. Typically the path leads to an ordinary bachelors degree following a further 60 ECTS worth of study and thereafter to an honours bachelors degree (also 60 credits) and then to a masters degree (usually a further 60 credits).
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