Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn has announced radical proposals for changes in the further education sector.

The minister made the announcement at the Teachers' Union of Ireland conference in Co Kilkenny.

In his 13-page speech, he spoke extensively about the Junior Cycle and also raised a new and controversial topic while talking about further education and training.

SOLAS, a new organisation, will formally begin operating in a few weeks' time and will replace FÁS.

Up to now many courses ran from September to April or May, but the minister is now proposing that courses run on a 12-month cycle.

Such year-round provision would entail major changes in the terms and conditions of many of those teaching such courses.

He said: "In our training centres, year-round provision has always been the norm. But this has not been the case in the further education sector.

"If the focus of this sector is on creating the opportunities which our people need, this must change.

"People cannot dictate when they will become unemployed.

"Equally, we cannot dictate that education opportunities will only appear at certain times of the year. We need to be much more flexible than that."

The announcement was met with surprise and silence by delegates at the conference.

Afterwards, a number of delegates said they were very annoyed that the minister has raised such radical proposals in such a way.