Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan, T.D., and Tánaiste Joan Burton, T.D., today announced additional funding of €3million for student support measures in 2016 at the launch of the new National Plan of Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015- 2019.
The National Access Plan for 2015-19 contains 5 key goals and more than 30 actions that are intended to assist under-represented groups to participate in third level education. It contains a number of targets for specific categories of students, including ‘disadvantaged’ students, students with disabilities, mature students, and members of the Travelling community.
The Access Plan aims to mainstream the ‘access’ agenda so that responsibility for promoting greater diversity extends beyond designated access officers and becomes the responsibility of everyone working in higher education institutions. The Plan will also aim to empower students in the development of access policy, and to strengthen the links between further and higher education.
At the launch of the new Access Plan, Minister O’Sullivan provided details of how the additional €3 million would be allocated.
“I am increasing the Student Assistance Fund by €1.5million in 2016. This Fund is a key support for students who experience temporary financial pressures in college. It can often be the difference between a student deciding to stay in or dropping out of college.”
An additional €500,000 is also being allocated for the Fund for Students with Disabilities. “We have made significant progress in recent years in ensuring that the needs of students with disabilities are accommodated within our higher education institutions. This additional funding will ensure that the necessary technology and supports are in place to ensure that we continue to make our institutions accessible to all of our students and accommodate all talents, the Minister stated.
Funding of €1 million is also being provided for a range of other actions such as measures to promote enrolment in initial teacher education programmes by students from under-represented groups, and measures to promote the value of higher education by directly engaging with students, their parents and their wider community.
Speaking at the launch Tánaiste Joan Burton, T.D., said, “As a society we have everything to gain and nothing to lose by increasing levels of participation in higher education among all Irish citizens, especially those who traditionally have low levels of access. This new plan offers us an ambitious but realistic opportunity to focus on that important goal. Not only does the plan set challenging targets but it details the actions many education partners need to take to improve current take-up and retention rates at higher level. The Government will not be found wanting in its commitment to this plan and I know from my engagement with education partners that they share this ambition.”
The new Plan will also target the issue of non-completion within higher education institutions and will also develop a new data strategy on access that will facilitate monitoring of progress under the Plan.
The new National Access Plan forms part of the wider reform agenda that is being rolled out as part of the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030. In particular, the Access Plan complements theSystem Performance Framework for the Higher Education System which measures progress by the higher education sector in broadening access opportunities for under-represented groups.
Minister O’Sullivan concluded by thanking the Higher Education Authority and all of the stakeholders who contributed to the Plan: “The new National Access Plan seeks to accomplish its targets by strengthening partnerships with parents, students and communities. It will build on the significant progress that has been made in this area by Higher Education Institutions. Working together we will ensure that the appropriate supports are in place to make third level a realistic option for previously under-represented groups in our society. This will have benefits for the students themselves, their families and communities, as well as our wider economy and society”.
The plan includes increased participation targets, including:
- Unskilled/semi-skilled manual worker background 35% (currently at 26%)
- Non-manual worker background 30% (currently at 23%)
- Transition from further education to higher education 10% (currently at 6.6%)
- Number of Travellers in higher education 80 (currently 35)
- Student with disabilities as a percentage of all new 8% (currently at 6%) entrants to higher education
These participation targets will be reviewed midway through the implementation of the plan. 30 actions to achieve these targets are outlined in the plan including:
- Mainstreaming the delivery of access policies in every department and faculty of HEIs.
- A working group will be established to address the issue of non-completion of courses.
- Further develop mentoring initiatives for students at second level.
- Strengthen links between HEIs and local communities with traditional low participation rates. Focus on more students from target groups entering the teaching profession – role model impact has very positive outcomes
Source: Department Education & Skills