From today, jobseekers can apply for a free place in higher education, including degree and post-graduate courses, through the Government's 'Springboard' programme.

Since the scheme began in 2011 more than 16,000 people have availed of it.

This year over 6,000 places are to be made available, at a cost of €25m to the Exchequer.

Springboard aims to help jobseekers gain the skills they need in order to get back to work.

The courses, which are generally part-time and last a year or less, lead to awards at certificate, degree and post-graduate level.

This year, 171 different courses are being offered in 38 colleges.

That includes 21 courses in Information and Communication Technology aimed at giving people who may have trained in a different area the skills to work in the growing ICT sector.