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2015-2019 National Access Plan
Towards the new National Access Plan
The 2008-2013 National Access Plan reached the end of its implementation timeframe in December 2013. Both it and its predecessor (2005-2007) identified key areas for development in national policy, practice and funding to achieve equity of access to higher educaiton. The plans have also served to co-ordinate work on common goals among the range of actors situated in the different parts of the education system.
Over the course of the 2008-2013 plan progress was made on a range of fronts. There have been significant increases in participation by matire students and those with disabilities. A tailored admission system for school leavers experiencing socio-economic disadvanage or with disabilities has been put in place by many of the higher education institutions. Equal access data on the social, cultural and economic background of higher education students has been gathered consistently by the HEA since 2007, and funding related to access students has been fully integrated into the HEA's recurrent grant allocation model for funding higher education institutions. More streamlined models of allocation are in place for the Student Assistance Fund and the Fund for Students with Disabilities. In addition, since 2011 the Springboard initiative has been established, which contributes to lifelong learning and National Skills Strategy targets, as well as the targets for part-time and mature students under the National Access Plans.
Change is also underway in Ireland's education system as a whole. The National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 was announced in 2011, with the vision that higher education will play a central role in making Ireland a country recognised for innovation, competitive enterprise and continuing academic excellence. In the System Performance Framework put in place to implement this strategy, equity of access to higher education is the second key system objective. In the wider education system, the establishment of Solas and the local Education and Training Boards has transformed the further education sector, and plans are advanced to reform both the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations. In addition, the Department of Education and Skills is developing a comprehensive education sector policy on social inclusion across the education continuum, from pre-school to higher education.
The consultation process
With these changes in mind, during 2014 the National Access Office analysed the latest data on participation in higher education by the target groups, both in order to develop new data methodologies and to assess the extent to which the objectives and targets set in the last plan were achieved. The data showed that, while several targets were set, some were not. This raised some fundamental questions on the policy approaches to increasing equity of access to higher education. Arising from this, the HEA and the Department of Education and Skills undertook a wide-ranging consultation process, in order to encourage new thinking and bring forward new information from a range of stakeholders. To facilitate this process, in August 2014 the HEA published a Consultation Paper: Towards the development of a new National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education, which invited all stakeholders to give their perspective on the access data as it then stood and suggestions for further progress. There was a strong response to the consultation process, with almost 60 written submissions to the HEA (available to view in the links below) and a series of roundtable meetings. The HEA and the Department place a high value on the contributions made as part of the consultation process, and the main points that emerged make a key contribution to the goals and actions of the new National Access Plan. A list of persons and organisations from who we recieved submissions is available to view from the link at the bottom of this page, and the submissions themselves are available to download.
Development of the Plan
Following the consultation process and the analysis of up-to-date data on participation and access, the HEA and the Department of Education and Skills developed the new National Access Plan. It is our view that, for the timeframe set out for them, the goals and actions described here are challenging and ambitious, but they are also realistic and attainable, and they represent new and innovative ways of bringing greater equity of access to higher education in Ireland. The vision behind this Plan is simply to ensure that the student body entering, participation in and completing higher education at all levels reflects the diversity and social mix of Ireland's population.
The National Access Plan can be downloaded from the link below.
Posted 01:01am Jan 1