The way in which students apply for third-level education is to be overhauled to include a connected system for a wider range of further education options and apprenticeships.

The new process has been announced as part of the publication of the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science's three-year plan.

The current system run by the Central Application Office, an independent body owned by third-level institutions, does not include options for apprenticeships or further education and training (FET).

Minister Simon Harris said he is concerned that students' options were being limited too early and the proposed reform of the platform will let students apply for a wider ranger of tertiary education options.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, he said there was a real opportunity to provide students with all of the information.

Minister Harris said there needs to be a new process that shows them all of the options, with a one-stop shop application form among the new measures.

The revamped strategy is being spearheaded by SOLAS, the State agency for building FET programmes.

There are also plans to create a single credit system for further and higher education, instead of the separate credit system currently in place for FET.

The department said this will open up equity through access and articulation and joint FET and Higher Education programmes are also envisaged in the plan.

The three-year plan will also increase the number of apprentices to 10,000 per year by 2025, introduce new legislation for the governance of higher education a new strategy for numeracy, literacy and digital skills.

The CAO has seen a record high number of 79,303 applications this year.

This includes an increased number of non-Irish applications and mature student applications.

SOLAS Chief Executive Andrew Brownlee said it is important that those who want to go on to further education and apprenticeships have all the information to hand.

He said two thirds of students go into higher education, but a smaller cohort take on apprenticeships.

Mr Brownlee that from 2022 there will be a much clearer sense of what further education options there are, and while there is a lot of work to do, there is a strong ambition there to make it happen.