HECA colleges represent a significant element of the Irish higher education sector with 12% of students last year attending our colleges. Our quality assurance, as overseen by Quality and Qualifications Ireland, is of a consistently high standard and the evidence of this is the clear schedule of providers successfully achieving Re-Engagement with QQI, thereby validating that the QA policies and procedures of these HEIs are robust and capable of underpinning a high quality educational experience for our students.
Our mettle was tested early in 2020 by the arrival of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Apart from the disruption it brought to all our lives and the tragedy it brought to many families across the country, it threw the delivery of higher education into chaos. HECA colleges turned their operations upside down very quickly. Those of us who were primarily classroom delivery colleges put the majority of our teaching online, enabling this through access to digital technologies and training all our teaching staff in the use of those technologies for teaching. Our students were hugely disrupted too and did not expect that their higher education experience, and in some cases their study-abroad experience, would be confined to their home. Our response has been noted and commented upon by students and other stakeholders in the sector as excellent. It is a great example of what we do best; being agile and flexible. We delivered our teaching online; we delivered our summer exams and assessment online; we supported our students online and we contributed to the emergency response of the whole sector by participating in steering and working groups established by the Department of Education.
Going forward, HECA colleges can contribute significantly to the recovery from COVID-19. We have capacity to meet the likely increased demand for upskilling and reskilling training and education. We have the flexibility and agility to develop new courses quickly and effectively, closely working with QQI, employers and other stakeholders. We recognise the need for practical, accessible supports for students that contribute to their engagement, wellbeing and academic outcomes, thereby enabling a strong positive student experience overall. One of our objectives for the remainder of 2020 will be to ensure students of HECA colleges can access the same supports as they would if they were attending a public higher education institution. The current system of funding education, and supports for education, is imbalanced and it disadvantages students who attend a private HEI, particularly those experiencing learning difficulties, financial difficulties or mental health difficulties.
I thank my colleagues for their placing their trust in me as Chair of HECA and I thank Denis Ryan, our previous Chair, for his great commitment to HECA and his passion for higher education.