Programme for Access to Higher Education
The Programme for Access to Higher Education (PATH) is a dedicated fund, broken into five strands, committed to increasing participation by under-represented groups in higher education.
The fund, valued at over €30 million, was established by the Department of Education and Skills, now the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, in 2017 as a commitment to support the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-2019.
PATH Strand 1 – Initial Teacher Education
The objectives of PATH 1 are to:
- increase the number of students from under-represented groups entering initial teacher education; and
- provide more role models for students from these groups, demonstrating that there are pathways open to them to realise their potential through education.
PATH 1 will support a range of new initiatives and partnerships and it is expected that these activities will result in increased students from under-represented groups participating in initial teacher education programmes.
Funding of €2.7m was initially allocated over a three-year period from 2017/18. In April 2020, the Department of Education and Skills announced that funding for PATH 1 would continue for a further three years, bringing the total allocation to €5.4m.
PATH Strand 2 – 1916 Bursaries
The purpose of the 1916 Bursary Fund is to commemorate the centenary of 1916 and underline the Government’s commitment to the type of equality of opportunity envisaged by the signatories of the 1916 proclamation. It forms part of the overall package of access measures to promote participation by under-represented groups in higher education.
Consistent with the vision, goals and target groups in the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-19, the 1916 Bursary Fund will provide financial support to students identified by clusters of higher education institutions as being the most economically disadvantaged from specified target groups, and it will complement existing student supports and access initiatives.
The 1916 Bursaries differ from existing bursaries in a number of respects in that they are targeted at non-traditional entry and can support undergraduate study on either a full- or part-time basis. Each bursary will be in the amount of €5,000 per year.
Funding was provided for the award of 200 bursaries in each of the three academic years commencing 2017/18. In February 2020, the Department of Education and Skills announced the rollout of the 1916 Bursary Fund for a further three years starting in 2020/21.
With effect from 2021/22 academic year, a number of significant changes were made to the 1916 Bursary Fund that resulted in a substantial increase in the number and type of bursaries available:
- Provision for existing bursary holders to continue receive bursaries to study at postgraduate level (€5,000 per annum)
- Introduction of a ‘second tier’ of bursary to be paid to students each academic year (€2,000 per annum)
- A ‘third tier’ consisting of once-off payments of €1,500 i.e., payable for one academic year only
In July 2022, the Department of Further and Higher Education announced an additional 50 Tier 1 bursaries for new entrants in the 2022/23 academic year bringing the total of Tier 1 bursaries to 253.
Further information on the 1916 Bursary Fund is available here.
PATH Strand 3 – Higher Education Access Fund
PATH 3 is intended to provide funding to support the development of regional and community partnership strategies for increasing access to higher education by specified groups.
This funding has been allocated on a competitive basis to regional clusters of higher education institutions and is intended to facilitate the attraction and retention of undergraduate students from target groups. It is intended that higher education institutions will form effective partnerships within their clusters and show evidence of how they will engage with local DEIS schools, further education providers, community and voluntary groups and other relevant stakeholders.
Funding of €7.5 million was initially allocated over a three-year period from 2018/19. In December 2020, the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science announced that PATH 3 will continue for a further three years with another funding envelope of €7.5m.
PATH Strand 4
In June 2022, the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science announced a fourth strand of PATH which will be supported by funding of €12m over a four-year period starting in 2022 and will be implemented on a phased basis as follows:
Phase 1 (2022) – Universal Design Fund – Supporting inclusive universally designed higher education environments for all
Phase 1 is a once-off fund based on allocation/approved project plan basis to PATH-funded HEIs and will support the embedding of Universal Design (UD) approaches and inclusive practices in HEIs. This will benefit all students and in particular autistic students and enable the building of capacity in HEIs for greater participation by students with intellectual disabilities in higher education.
Phase 2 (2023-2025) – Proposals for course provision for Students with Intellectual Disabilities
Phase 2 will be based on a competitive call for proposals and will involve a three-year pathfinding pilot to support an enhancement of course provision for students with intellectual disabilities and to inform future policy considerations for students with intellectual disabilities.
PATH Strand 5
In November 2020, Minister Harris announced ring-fenced funding of €300,000 to support students from the Traveller community. This funding came from the Dormant Accounts Fund. The funding was aimed at Traveller progression to, and retention in, higher education during the pandemic. It could be used to support students with study spaces, health and social impacts, caring responsibilities and technology supports. On 12 November 2021, Minister Harris announced a continuation of this Fund in the amount of €450,000 to support Travellers and also extended this fund to Roma students in higher education.
Building on this initiative, PATH 5 was announced as a key component of the new National Access Plan (2022-2028) which was launched in August 2022. The key objective of this funding stream is to enable HEIs to put in place an infrastructure to increase the participation of Traveller and Roma students in Higher Education. PATH 5 will also allow the targets identified as part of the new NAP (2022-2028) to be achieved and crucially, will enable the setting of higher targets consistent with the plan’s vision.