Page updated Wednesday 19 May 2021
Over the last few months, the higher and further education and training sector has taken swift action to adapt to the unprecedented levels of disruption posed by COVID-19.
Providers have implemented a range of modified teaching, learning and assessment alternatives at short notice in order to maintain satisfactory levels of provision for learners.
As we now emerge from lockdown, we move from contingency measures to a new longer-term planning phase which demands a strategic approach to delivering education and training in a blended learning environment.
QQI recognises the key role it plays as the sole agency working across the spectrum of higher and further education and training activities in the country. We are proud to play an active part in supporting our partners and maintaining confidence in the tertiary education and training system as we move into a new academic year.
For QQI, many of our processes have had to evolve immediately and more will have to change in the medium and long-term – adding extra certification periods to facilitate CAO learners; creating virtual site visits as part of our quality assurance reviews; and extending deadlines for programme review and revalidation processes.
QQI has advice and guidance to offer below in relation to these and many other challenges experienced by our stakeholders.
GUIDANCE FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING PROVIDERS
QQI continues to work with partners across the education and training sector to support and provide leadership for FET and HE providers in their efforts to maintain the integrity, quality and standards of the Irish education and training system.
Key goals are to re-assure learners that the quality and integrity of the qualification they receive will be maintained as we move to remote and blended learning models, and to provide guidance concerning alternative arrangements for teaching, learning and assessment for the coming year.
NB Covid-19 provisions are valid until 31 August 2021. They will be reviewed before they expire and updated or extended as required.
OTHER USEFUL RESOURCES
QQI has compiled some useful sources of information on national and international responses to COVID-19 and resources to support academic integrity in the provision of teaching, learning and assessment in both remote and face-to-face settings. This document is being updated on an ongoing basis.
PROGRAMME DELIVERY AND ASSESSMENT
Q: As we move into a new academic year, is there specific advice on alternative options to classes, lectures or assessments?
A: Events of recent months have precipitated a move towards blended learning across education and training. As more providers move to integrate face-to-face campus engagement with online learning, our Quality Assurance Guidelines on Blended Learning will be an essential guide for institutions and individual programme developers in establishing and maintaining the quality of their programmes.
These guidelines were developed by QQI with the assistance of an expert provider group with national and international expertise. They are established as an additional layer to QQI's Core Quality Assurance Guidelines. A webinar is planned for September to raise awareness of these guidelines and how they can benefit providers.
As advised, many of you have implemented your local contingency plans to cover programme delivery and assessment. While these plans may have involved changes to approved programme schedules, you must ensure that you maintain full academic governance and quality assurance principles; and remain within your approved scope of provision.
If you have not already done so, it is important that providers of QQI awards send QQI a document setting out the overarching contingency plans/arrangements you are implementing, no later than Friday 7 August (email@example.com).
You should monitor the implementation of contingency arrangements and record any issues arising and measures taken to address them. Monitoring should include consultation with staff, learners, academic councils/quality committees, professional/ regulatory bodies and any other stakeholders with an interest in the programmes.
Q: Do these changes to programme delivery extend to online provision? Even where a provider has not had QA approval or programme validation for blended learning?
A: Yes. In order to minimise the impact on teaching and learning, you should continue to plan lessons and, where possible, provide online resources for students or online lessons where schools are equipped to do so. Schools are asked to be conscious of students that may not have access to online facilities and to consider this actively in their response.
Any such contingency arrangements should be subject to normal provider quality assurance and governance. QQI should be notified of the contingency plan but it will not be necessary for QQI to approve each provider's plan. We will acknowledge receipt of and note your plan.
Q: What about assessments and examinations for the coming year?
A: The same broad message applies, but it is even more important here that providers maintain quality assurance of the assessment process where it is changed from the validated programme, as the integrity of the awards is critical.
For example, any change from on-campus to a different form of assessment will need to be planned carefully with the following factors being paramount:
The same learning outcomes need to be assessed.
Academic integrity/cheating checks need to be in place where a switch is made from a controlled assessment e.g. exam, to a less controlled assessment e.g. online submission of assignments etc.
Any changes need to be approved by your Academic Council or Quality Committee in consultation with external examiner where appropriate.
Q: What is the advice about work placements?
A: The COVID restrictions may mean that employers in some sectors are closed or are unable to accommodate work placements. For a number of QQI CAS awards, temporary modifications have been made to the award structure to enable learners to complete an alternative component. The list of awards is available here.
In some vocational disciplines, e.g. healthcare and childcare, work placement in a relevant setting is important for the achievement of learning outcomes and, in some cases, is a regulatory requirement. However, as a force majeure measure, QQI has determined that providers of programmes leading to QQI awards in these vocational areas will be permitted to modify programmes and assessments with specific work placement requirements to support the achievement of learning outcomes via placements of reduced duration or alternative means (e.g. such as simulation, alternative assessments etc.). This flexibility must be subject to appropriate internal quality assurance and approved by the relevant internal QA governance structures. In the case of QQI awards in early learning and care, this approach has also been agreed by the relevant regulatory bodies, the Department of Education and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.
Where placement is a necessary requirement for professional qualification, e.g. teaching, nursing etc, queries should be directed to the relevant regulator. In some cases, it may be necessary to postpone work placements.
If you are a provider and you have questions about programme delivery and assessment, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
CERTIFICATION AND CAO
Q: Will the current disruptions affect my application to the CAO process?
A: QQI has added an extra QQI award certification period on 7th July 2021 to accommodate delays in delays in completing assessments and appeals. The results submitted to QQI for the July certification period will be submitted by QQI to CAO in time for the Zero Round offer.
The closing date for submission of results by providers is 7 July 2021.
The closing date for submission of appeal outcomes by providers is 27 July 2021.
Certificates will be issued to providers on 3 September 2021.
ENGLISH LANGUAGE SCHOOLS
Q: Has anything changed in terms of ACELS renewal fees and inspections for those ELE provider who are ACELS accredited?
A: In 2020, in light of the current extenuating circumstances, QQI/ACELS delayed the invoicing of the ACELS annual renewal fee.
ACELS providers were charged the renewal fee corresponding to the number of classrooms in their main centres in 2020. ACELS providers were not charged for their additional centres in 2020. This applied to all providers, whether they were all-year-round or seasonal operators.
In May 2021, QQI/ACELS issued a circular informing ACELS accredited providers that a credit note which reflects the portion of 2020 for which the scheme was not in operation - i.e., 42 weeks out of 52 - would be issued to them shortly. This involves partial refunds to providers who have already paid the 2020 accreditation fee in full. Please note that the providers who have not paid the 2020 fee yet are still liable for payment for the period prior to 13th March 2020.
QQI/ACELS has deferred the 2021 annual recognition process for accredited schools, including invoicing, until the prospects for the sector are clearer. QQI/ACELS is not currently accepting any renewals of recognition for 2021. This may change depending on the progress towards the introduction of the IEM and the developments in the sector.
There will be no school inspections for the foreseeable future.
The Notice – Resumption of in-person provision for the English Language Education Sector issued by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science states the conditions under which ELE providers may resume in-person activity to cater for the needs of the existing cohort of ELE students currently in the State starting from 19 July 2021. Providers are advised to contact their sector representative bodies (MEI or PCN) for details regarding the Covid-19 ELE Re-opening Protocols & Adaptation Framework.
Marketing English in Ireland (MEI)
Progressive College Network (PCN)
Q. What kind of support is there from QQI for the providers and English language/ international students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
A. QQI participates on a Covid-19 Working Group for the English language education sector that has been established by the Department of Education and Skills to engage with key stakeholders to ensure that issues of primary concern to students in this sector are addressed. The Working Group includes representatives of relevant Government Departments and representatives of both students and education providers.
The work of this group has resulted in the publication of guidance for all students in this sector in a range of languages which has been also been disseminated to students via their education providers.
This material includes guidance for these students on:
The Working Group continues to engage on a regular basis to address issues as they emerge and to provide further information on the advice and supports that are available for students.
Q: I am an English language student and I have questions related to my VISA. How can I access the latest information regarding VISA applications and immigration rules?
A: Information on immigration-related issues can be found on the website of the Department of Justice and Equality here.
Q: I am an English language student and I am not happy with my online classes. I have asked for a refund, but my school – which is ACELS accredited - has refused to approve it. Can QQI ACELS do anything about this?
A: In compliance with the Government Decision taken in March 2020, all English language education (ELE) providers closed their premises in accordance with public health advice as part of efforts to combat the spread of the Covid-19 outbreak. As
of 19 July 2021, providers can reopen their premises – where it is safe to do
so - to cater for the needs of their existing cohorts of students and subject
to the conditions of this Notice.
Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, English language education providers have introduced new ways of providing services to their students including facilitating the provision of online classes. This reflects a similar approach that has been adopted by providers across the wider education system. If a student is having issues with the programme on offer or in accessing a provider's services, they can engage with their provider to address these issues.
It is not within the remit of QQI ACELS to pursue ACELS providers for refunds arising from fees paid by students. This is a matter between the student and their provider. However, as part of the conditions for a provider to hold ACELS recognition, each provider must have a refunds policy in place and also a complaints procedure in the event of student complaints. These should be communicated to the student at time of enrolment. If students exhaust the internal complaints procedure of the provider and are still unhappy about the outcome, they can make a complaint to ACELS. However, in the case of a complaint regarding refunds, ACELS can only check whether a provider has followed their internal refunds policy. If the provider's refund policy was followed, ACELS cannot intervene any further in a private agreement between a provider and their student.
PROGRAMME VALIDATION AND RE-ENGAGEMENT
Q: QQI has arranged a site visit for a panel to visit my provider. Will this go ahead?
A: Unless otherwise notified, site visits will be postponed for the foreseeable future. Providers and panel members will be contacted directly. Where appropriate and where agreed with the provider and panel, some panel meetings will take place online.
Q: My programme is due for revalidation but I can't complete the process. Is a September intake now impossible?
A: All programmes whose validation is due to expire before September 2020 have been granted an extension up to the end of 2020, should it be needed for reasons relating to Covid-19. Please contact the Validation unit at QQIQA@QQI.ie if this is relevant to you.
Q: I was due to apply for reengagement this year but I couldn't make the deadline due to the crisis. What should I do now?
A: In recognition of the challenges faced by individual providers over recent months, a revised schedule for application for reengagement has been published. Applications are expected on the due date now published.
HIGHER EDUCATION QUALITY REVIEWS
Q: Will higher education review site visits continue as normal?
A: Lockdown and social distancing have required us to review and adapt our processes and we have commenced our first 'virtual' institutional review with IT Carlow. An independent panel of experts have engaged with staff, learners and stakeholders of the institute to discuss its approach to quality assurance and enhancement. Other quality review site visits will be rescheduled.
If you have questions about HE quality reviews, contact email@example.com.
ETB INAUGURAL REVIEWS
Q: Has the inaugural review schedule been affected by COVID-19?
A: The pandemic restrictions impacted on the ability of ETBs in the first phase of the review to progress self-evaluation activities. This has required changes to the anticipated timeline for the Phase 1 reviews and has had an effect on the overall inaugural review schedule. The revised schedule is available here.
If you have questions about the ETB Inaugural Reviews, contact ETBM-R@qqi.ie.
GENERAL INFORMATION ON COVID-19
Q: Where can I find out the latest information in relation to the national response to COVID-19?
A: The HSE is the authoritative source of health information and advice on the situation regarding the virus in Ireland. The latest updates can be found here.
Regular updates specifically aimed at the education and training sector can be found at the Department of Education and Skills website.
The Government has also published Ireland's National Action Plan in response to COVID-19 which aims to minimise the health, social and economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Other useful sources of information:
Department of Justice and Equality
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade