An increasing number of Irish people want to go on courses which are accredited, i.e. lead to a recognised qualification. Generally, diploma and certificates are more valuable if they form part of a recognised university or NCEA programme (some institutions offer ‘extra-mural’ courses which aren’t recognised in this way, so it’s a good idea to check the standing of the course before you enrol).
If you want advice or guidance on choosing a course, contact the Adult Education Officer for your area through your local Vocational Education Committee or AONTAS, which provides a free information pack to those wishing to take up further education (Tel. 01-475 4121; ). AONTAS recommends two publications, the Wolfhound Guide to Evening Classes and Dublin’s Evening Classes (Oisin), both of which are available from booksellers. Oisin also publishes a guide to postgraduate courses.
Distance education (or distance learning) is the name given to learning via books, tapes, CDs, TV, radio, e-mail, computer conferencing and interactive video, usually supplemented by occasional tutorial sessions at nearby centres or by telephone.
The National Distance Education Centre ( NDEC, or Oscail in Irish) was set up in 1982 within Dublin City University (although separately funded by the HEA) to take responsibility for providing all adults in Ireland with access to third-level education.
The first distance education degrees were awarded in 1991, in science & technology. Since then undergraduate courses in humanities, IT, and nursing have been added, as well as postgraduate courses (in IT and in operations management) and other courses are planned (e.g. web design). For further information contact the NDEC (Tel. 01-700 5481; www.oscail.ie). A Directory of distance education courses in Ireland is published by AONTAS.
The NDEC is linked to the European Programme for Advanced Continuing Education (Euro-PACE) and in 1990 signed an agreement with the UK-based Open University (OU) to allow Irish people to take Open University courses. The OU offers a choice of over 150 modules leading to BA and BSc degrees, as well as MA and MSc courses and diplomas in subjects including criminology and health & social welfare, MBAs, etc. Further details can be obtained from the Open University in Ireland
(Tel. 01-678 5399; ) or from the main Open University website www.open.ac.uk.
Distance education students are able to design their own diploma or degree from a wide range of modular courses. A degree programme, for example, could consist of six modules, only two of which are set and on each of which the student must complete a certain number of hours’ study. All colleges affiliated to the NCEA operate this scheme, so that students can build up ‘credits’ at different centres until they have enough for a degree or diploma.
The NDEC and OU run similar schemes. Students must begin by taking one of five foundation courses, which counts as one credit. Then they can take another foundation course or move on to a BA or BA Honours degree (six and eight credits respectively). A full credit course involves 2–15 hours a week, a half credit course six to eight hours. These credits can also be ‘transferred’ to centres in other countries. Some institutions will also grant credits in terms of ‘exemptions’ if a student has practical experience or has done non-accredited study in the subject