The role of the Department for Employment and Learning is to formulate policy and administer funding to support education, research and related activities in the Northern Ireland higher education sector. 
Higher education in Northern Ireland is delivered through three universities and two university colleges

Higher education courses are also delivered in the six Institutes of Further and Higher Education.

Unlike other parts of the UK, Northern Ireland has no higher education funding council; the Department fulfills the roles of both a government department and a funding council. 

How the Department`s Higher Education Division is split
The Department’s higher education division is split into eight branches.
1. Student Finance
Thisbranch is responsible for student support including student loans and grants, Postgraduate Awards, and Education Maintainance Allowance.

2. Higher Education Finance
This branch is responsible for financial support of the sector and the promotion of good financial practice.
3. Higher Education Policy
This branch formulates and implements policies relating to learning and teaching, higher education quality assurance, international higher education, and sign language. It is also responsible for the administration of initial teacher education and administering the All-Ireland Scholarships on behalf of the McManus Trust.

4. Higher Education Widening Participation branch
Widening participation in higher education facilitates and increases the participation of those groups which are currently under represented in HE in particular students from disadvantaged backgrounds and students with learning difficulties and disabilities.

5. Higher Education Research Policy
This branch administers funding and formulate policy for research and knowledge transfer activities.

6. Higher Education Future Policy
This branch is responsible for four projects identified in the Higher Education Strategy for Northern Ireland "Graduating to Success" Projects 1,12, 13 & 15. Also responsible for Departmental policy in relation to the Service Leaver's Scheme in cooperation with the Ministry of Defence.
7. Higher Education Improving Quality
This branch is responsible for three projects identified in the Higher Education Strategy for Northern Ireland "Graduating to Success" Projects 4, 5, & 6. Review of Initial Teacher Education, Quality Assurance Polices and Implementation.
8. Higher Education Strategy Programme Management Office
This branch has oversight responsibility for the implementation of the projects resulting from the Northern Ireland Higher Education Strategy "Graduating to Success" and the Northern Ireland Regional strategy for widening participation in Higher Education "Access to Success". More...