Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin wants a significant shake-up of cabinet portfolios if he enters a coalition government with Fine Gael.
Mr Martin wants a new department to solely focus on third-level education and research.
He has also suggested tourism may need a standalone department to address the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the sector.
He also wants to remove disability services from the Department of Health to ensure people with conditions have better opportunities.
Mr Martin's comments come as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael prepare a response to the Green Party's demands for entering into programme-for-government talks.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Martin said he was "very keen" to have a new department in the next cabinet focused on higher education and research.
He insisted the sector was the key to creating new companies and products which would aid the economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic.
"It is not the sexiest thing politically, it doesn't win votes, but research is absolutely essential," he said. "We need to grow our own internationals in medical devices, in pharmaceuticals and also in software.
"Unfortunately we tend to get to a certain level and someone comes in and buys up our people," he added.
Mr Martin said he was "actively" considering the need for a ministry for tourism. The proposal was first mooted by Fianna Fáil's Cork South West TD Christopher O'Sullivan, who said a dedicated tourism minister would be needed to revive the sector.
"I think part of the economic recovery will have to be looking at how to incentivise people to holiday at home, presuming you can get restaurants open again and hotels to open again before the year is out," Mr Martin said.
He said he was not in favour of breaking up the Department of Health as the "holy grail" was to properly integrate acute hospital care with community services. However, Mr Martin wants to improve disability services and said this could involve removing it from the health portfolio.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are set to finalise their response to 17 questions raised by the Green Party as early as today.
Green leader Eamon Ryan has identified a demand for a more ambitious 7pc-a-year reduction in carbon emissions as a red-line for his party.
The Regional Independent Group of nine TDs convened by Denis Naughten has also been involved in talks.
Mr Naughten has claimed the 7pc-a-year target is "unattainable" and he also raised concerns about a Green Party proposal to link supports for coronavirus-hit industries to carbon emissions. Under the Green Party plan, reported by the 'Business Post', cement plants and power stations would not get rescue funding unless they cut emissions.
Mr Naughten argued: "The reality is that if every cement plant and power station in the country closed down it has absolutely no impact on our targets because they're all part of a European-wide emissions trading system.
"They're not part of our emissions profile here."
He said the Regional Independent Group has not ruled out joining a government that involves the Green Party but is waiting to see Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael's response to them.