HEA Access

New multi-million euro fund to support underrepresented students to access higher education



Rose Sweeney

Posted: 22 February, 2018

2,000 students from underrepresented groups to benefit from €5.7m fund 

Focus on regions, Government allocates funding to higher education institutions as regional clusters 

The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton T.D. and Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. today announced a new €5.7m “Higher Education Access Fund” to support students from underrepresented groups to access higher education. Funding will be given to regional clusters of institutions to support approved access initiatives.

The Action Plan for Education, which aims to make Ireland’s education system the best in Europe by 2026, clearly outlines the Government’s commitment to breaking down barriers to education and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their full potential. Today’s announcement will not only support under-represented groups to access higher education, but will enable much greater community engagement at local level within the regions.

Regional clusters of higher education institutions submitted project plans to Higher Education Authority (HEA), detailing how the cluster intended to work together to improve access in their region over the next 3 years. These plans have now been independently assessed and four out of the six regional clusters were successful in their proposals. The remaining two regional clusters (Leinster Pillar 2- TU4D and West/North West) have been invited to submit revised proposals and further funding will be made available, should these revised proposals be considered successful.

This funding will facilitate the attraction and retention of an additional 2,000 new undergraduate students, full-time or part-time. The target groups referred to include the following:

  • Entrants from socio-economic groups that have low participation in higher education.
  • First time, mature student entrants.
  • Students with disabilities.
  • Part-time/flexible learners.
  • Further education award holders.
  • Irish Travellers.

The Ministers have also specified that at least 10% of all places must be targeted at lone parents.

Announcing the funding, Minister Bruton said “Regional clusters of higher education institutions are strong engines of growth and innovation in our economy. By working together and adopting a whole of community approach, our higher education providers can be much more effective in achieving our national priorities.

“Improving access to education is a key priority of mine as Minister. If we want our education system to be the best, it must be as inclusive as possible. This funding is one of a range of measures we are taking to ensure that this is the case. We currently provide over €400m in supports for access initiatives to students and Institutions every year, with student grants being paid to over 78,000 students. I’m particularly happy that we are providing our HEIs with this extra dedicated financial support to develop innovation and sustainable initiatives to reach out to the wider community and develop regional and community partnership approach to access.”

In announcing the initiative, Minister Mitchell O’Connor commented:

“This represents the third strand of PATH funding and fulfils a commitment in the National Access Plan, 2015-19 in relation to the development of regional and community strategies. This funding is intended to attract and retain 2,000 new undergraduate students from target groups, and it is also one of the actions in the Action Plan for Education.

“Today’s announcement will help more people from disadvantaged groups to get to third level, which is a major goal of the National Access Plan and the Action Plan for Education. A priority for me as Minister of State for Higher Education is to provide target groups with more opportunities to reach their potential. They broaden the means of support available within the community to students from the target groups to consider higher education as an option for them. Initiatives such as these which have the potential to really help to break the cycle of disadvantage for many communities.”

This fund is strand 3 of the PATH Fund. PATH was established by the Department of Education and Skills to fund innovative initiatives to increase equity of access to higher education. The Higher Education Authority is managing the PATH schemes on behalf of the Department.

Note for editors 

The National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-2019 (‘National Access Plan’) was published in December 2015. The overall vision informing the goals, objectives and actions of the Plan is to ensure that the student body entering, participating in and completing higher education at all levels reflects the diversity and social mix of Ireland’s population. The National Access Plan contains a number of targets to increase participation by specific categories of students. Target groups include entrants from under-represented socio-economic groups and communities; entrants with disabilities; mature entrants and members of the Irish Traveller community and students entering on the basis of a further education award.

Subsequent to the launch of the National Access Plan, the Department established the Programme for Access to Higher Education (PATH) Fund. This Fund comprises dedicated funding to support access to higher education at regional cluster level. The funding will be allocated on a competitive basis to the clusters of higher education to support particular priority areas as determined by the Department.

The Minister for Education and Skills announced €2.5m in Budget 2017 to fund measures to encourage Higher Education Institutions to engage directly with disadvantaged communities in order to attract more disadvantaged students into higher education. The investment over the three years is estimated to cost up to €7.5m.

Following an independent assessment of proposals submitted under Strand 3 (Higher Education Access Fund) of the programme for Access to Higher Education (PATH), Funding is being allocated to regional clusters of HEIs, with indicative Year 1 funding of €1.9 m and indicative funding for 3 years of €5.7m. – funding approval is subject to the submission of revised projects plan which should address budget, evaluation and feedback from the independent assessment panel.

The four successful clusters are as follows:

South –

  • University College Cork
  • Cork IT
  • IT Tralee
  • Waterford IT
  • IT Carlow

Mid-West –

  • University of Limerick
  • Mary Immaculate College
  • Limerick IT

Dublin/Leinster Pillar 1 –

  • University College Dublin
  • Trinity College Dublin
  • National College of Art and Design
  • Marino Institute of Education
  • Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology

Leinster Pillar 2 – Mend

  • Dublin City University
  • Dundalk IT
  • Maynooth University
  • Athlone IT

Work on the allocation of the remaining funding is being progressed by the HEA.

Key initiatives to be funded:

Dublin Leinster Pillar II 

The proposal College Connect aims to enhance educational aspirations for the most socio-economically disadvantaged people in the region, including Travellers, lone parents, students with a disability and programme refugees, through a participative and sustainable suite of activities and resources to illuminate pathways and provide opportunities into, through and beyond higher education.

Leinster Pillar 1 

The project proposes the establishment of a Creative Arts Summer School, an Open Learning initiative, a Mentoring initiative and an inter-generational focus on higher education using a “Learning Cities” approach, targeting Irish Travellers, asylum seekers and refugees, lone parents, and students with a disability.

Regional Cluster South

The proposal is to develop four initiatives to support increased participation; design and deliver an accredited Training for Trainers Special Purpose Award in Traveller Cultural Awareness Training, Enabling Transitions Initiative for students with a disability, a Parental Engagement Programme and a mentoring programme on developing teaching and learning strategies.

Regional Cluster Mid-West

This proposal, Destination College from Shannon Consortium (SC) focuses upon introducing several initiatives designed to increase the number of students from the under-represented groups in Limerick schools participating in HEIs over a three-year period. These groups include students from schools in disadvantaged areas, lone parents, students from a Traveller background and early school leavers.

More: Access, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, PATH, Richard Bruton