Graduate Outcomes & Socio-Economic Status: Foreword

Equity of access to higher education is a policy priority for the HEA. This commitment to equity of access is embedded in the Strategic Action Plan for Equity of Access, Participation and Success 2022–2028 (‘the National Access Plan’). The Plan builds on the vision of previous plans for a more inclusive and diverse student population in higher education. Access to higher education should be independent of socio-economic background, ethnicity, gender, geographical location, disability or other circumstances. The Plan’s ambition is that the student body entering, participating in, and completing higher education will reflect the diversity and social mix of Ireland’s population and that higher education institutions are inclusive, universally designed environments which support and foster student success.

The National Access Plan places the student at the centre. Everything is directed at delivering positive and inclusive outcomes for all students at every stage of their higher education journey. This is underpinned by six student-centred goals – Inclusivity, Flexibility, Clarity, Coherence and Sustainability, all of which are underpinned by an Evidence-Driven Approach.

The Plan also identifies priority groups who will be targeted and supported over the lifetime of the Plan. One of these priority groups is students who are socio-economically disadvantaged.

Students from socio-economically disadvantaged areas account for 10% of the student population in Irish higher education compared to 20% from affluent areas. For some courses and NFQ levels, the disparity is even greater. Although there have been a range of significant interventions in recent years to support equity of access to higher education e.g., the Programme for Access to Higher Education (PATH) in addition to long-standing programmes such as the Student Assistance Fund (SAF) and the Student Grant Scheme, there are still communities and parts of our population that are not accessing higher education.

Increasing participation rates of students from socio-economically disadvantaged areas is a priority of the National Access Plan. The HEA’s Deprivation Index Scores (DIS) data already plays a key role in measuring progress for this priority group and has supported targeted interventions supporting equity of access. Our ambitions for supporting students from disadvantaged areas goes beyond increasing participation rates. It is essential to consider the experiences of students from socio-economically disadvantaged areas in higher education and their graduate outcomes. Graduate outcomes for this and other priority groups is one of the Key Performance Indicators in the National Access Plan that will be monitored over the lifetime of the Plan.

The wealth of data now set out in this Graduate Outcomes Survey report on students from disadvantaged areas provides valuable information on what happens to students after they graduate and how their post-graduation experiences may differ from students from more affluent backgrounds. This includes whether students are in employment or pursuing further study or research, detailed information broken down by graduates’ field of study or which labour market sector they are working in and average earnings post-graduation. The National Access Plan is committed to working towards a more diverse teacher workforce in schools; this report provides valuable data on the outcomes for students graduating from teacher education courses thereby enabling evidence-based assessment of the extent to which the teaching population is becoming more diverse.

This Graduate Outcomes Survey report is a critical information resource that will support the HEA in measuring progress in the delivery of the goals of the National Access Plan. It will also support HEIs in examining how students from disadvantaged areas can be supported to achieve successful outcomes. For policymakers and as part of the whole-of-Government approach set out in the National Access Plan, this graduate outcomes data will form the basis for considering what further policy interventions or approaches may be required to support students. It will also complement existing Government strategies such as the Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020–2025, Pathways to Work 2021–2025 and Working to Change: Social Enterprise and Employment Strategy 2021–2023.

The HEA looks forward to using and sharing this graduate outcomes data on students from disadvantaged areas to realise our ambitions in the National Access Plan and achieve an inclusive and diverse student population with successful and positive outcomes for all.

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