From FE to HE: performance of PLC candidates with QQI FET awards


Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses are full-time programmes for young people who have completed their Leaving Certificate or for adults returning to education. QQI Award courses are offered in a range of disciplines, helping learners develop technical and practical skills and earn an award at Level 5 or 6 on the National Framework of Qualifications. They can provide an alternative route to higher education (HE) for learners through the CAO process.

On average there are 12,000 CAO applicants who present QQI Awards in further education and training (FET) to the CAO each year. From these, an average of 5,000 learners per year are eligible to be offered a HE course on the basis of their CAO points. The CAO noted that most of these candidates have both a major QQI FET award and a Leaving Cert. New analysis of QQI Award certification data has provided an insight into how, and in what subject areas, PLC students might be progressing to higher education through their QQI Award.

Key findings from an analysis of data between 2018 and 2021 show that:

  • 52% of QQI Award PLC learners who were eligible for a higher education place in 2021 earned the maximum CAO points possible (390 points), an increase of 31% from 2018.  The grade increase in 2020 and 2021 is likely due to COVID-related restrictions as stated in the 2021 Department of Education report on the National Standardisation Process:  Accredited Grades for Leaving Certificate 2021. This report found that “the calculated grades process in 2020 showed strong evidence that there was overestimation of outcomes at all points in the achievement spectrum and that it was more pronounced at the upper end. The grade distributions in the school estimates for the 2021 Accredited Grades process show even stronger grade profiles, with substantial further increases in the proportion of estimates corresponding to the highest grades, especially at higher level” (p.25).

  • The overall number of PLC candidates with QQI Awards fell in 2021 by 2% from 2020 but increased by 7% between 2019 and 2020.

  • One in four of all PLC candidates between 2018-2021 achieved an NFQ Level 5 QQI Award in Nursing Studies.

  • The top 5 QQI major awards in terms of numbers of PLC CAO applicants were the same in 2020 and 2021: nursing studies; business studies; community health services; applied social studies; and laboratory techniques.

  • The average CAO points earned did not change much between 2020 and 2021; but increased three percentages points from 2019 to 2020.

You can view more detailed information in our interactive graphic below.  This contains data about the CAO points of PLC learners who had achieved QQI Awards in further education and training (FET) between 2018 and 2021.

This increase is also observed in Leaving Certificate Examination Points:


This analysis is based on the CAO points achieved by QQI FET graduates who achieved a level 5 or 6 major award on the basis of fulltime study in a single academic year (August to July). Only grades obtained in single sittings are considered when calculating CAO points.

The analysis focuses on the specific cohorts of QQI FET learners who achieved a level 5 or 6 major award and applied to CAO in the same calendar year.