Further education in Ireland can refer to any post-compulsory education above secondary school, which would include University, College, Institute degrees as well as Independent Education. The education provided by these vary from purely theoretical to vocational. In other cases university education is excluded from this definition with further education being one of the routes to higher education or to the job market (more commonly) and this is how it is going to referred to here.
Further education provides a lot of options for students who just left school and for adults who would like to come back to studying. To take on a further education course you would want to look for Colleges of Education and Institutes of Technology which provide more vocational courses than Universities. There is also a number of third level institutions, private and state funded that offer courses in areas like rural development, theology, art and design, law, medicine etc. FETAC - Further Education and Training Awards Council which looks after the standards of further education and makes sure the registered institutions follow the National Framework. FETAC itself doesn't provide courses and training but they provide a range of information for both learners and employers. For a more in-depth look at vocational education in general, look here.
Universities offer a range of higher education courses ranging from foundation to PhD degrees. The application process for entry into undergraduate studies in universities, colleges, institutes is governed by Central Application Office. This is to process applications centrally, fairly and time efficiently although the institutions make their own independent decisions on admissions. There are 8 Universities in Ireland and most of them offer open Bachelor of Arts degrees which allows students to decide on their specialty after first year of study. The University tuition fees are covered by Free Fees Initiative and students only need to pay student contribution.
National Framework Qualifications
After graduating from secondary school you have a Leaving Certificate at level 4/5 which will allow you to proceed onto Further Education at levels 5 and 6 or to higher education and training awards at level 6 or higher. Level 6 gives you an opportunity to achieve a Higher Certificate or Advanced Certificate, both of which can lead to a Bachelor's degree or to work. Achievement of Higher Certificate usually takes 2 years and is provided by Higher Education institution and is slightly more academic than Advanced Certificate which can be pursued in the institutions of HETAC and Institutes of Technology. Level 7 then is Ordinary Bachelor's Degree and level 8 is Honours BA which can be achieved at a recognised higher education institution and lead to level 9 being a Master's degree and level 10 - Doctoral Degree.
Apprenticeships is yet another option to get you into the work and enhance your skills. Completing an internship will award you with a FETAC Advanced Certificate which will allow you to enter a range of courses in the Institutes of Technology.