Equity of Access

Throughout the year, the Access Policy section continued to work in partnership with DES to implement the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-2019.

In December 2018 the HEA published the Progress Review of this plan. The Review was launched by the Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, at an event in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. The Review highlighted the important achievements made since the launch of the National Access Plan in 2015. These include increases in participation rates across a number of the target groups, with particularly high increases for students with disabilities and among socio-economically disadvantaged groups. Increased Government funding of €16.5 million in the form of the Programme for Access to Higher Education Fund (PATH) will contribute to ensuring continued increases in participation. Other key developments include the development of an Access Data Plan and strengthening student success initiatives across the higher education sector.

The Review identified challenges remaining including the need to improve participation rates among mature students and Irish Travellers and ensuring that the higher education system has processes in place to respond to students’ needs as they start and progress through their studies.

The Progress Review made a total of 16 recommendations across 7 themes and the HEA and Department of Education and Skills will work together with the higher education sector and other stakeholders to implement these. These include revising upwards targets for some of the target groups identified in the National Access Plan and extending the term of the Plan itself to 2021.

Programme for Access to Higher Education (PATH)

PATH provides dedicated funding to support access to higher education at regional cluster level to students from the target groups identified in the National Access Plan. The HEA manages the Fund on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills, amounting to approximately €16.5 million over three years. 2018 saw the continued roll-out of the PATH initiative across its three strands:

  • PATH 1: Equity of Access to Initial Teacher Education – supporting a range of new initiatives and partnerships to promote participation in initial teacher education by students from the target groups. Funding of over €800,000 has been released under this strand for the 2017/18 academic year.
  • PATH 2: 1916 Bursary Fund – provides financial support to students identified as being most economically disadvantaged from the target groups studying on either a full or part-time basis. Lone parents and ethnic minorities are also target groups for this fund. In the 2017/18 academic year funding of €1m was provided for 200 scholarships across six regional clusters of higher education institutions. 2018/19 will see an additional 200 bursaries funded.
  • PATH 3: Higher Education Access Fund – supports the development of regional and community partnership strategies for increasing access to higher education by the target groups. This fund is intended to support regional clusters of higher education institutions to attract additional students (full or part-time) from groups currently under-represented in higher education and to ensure those students are supported to complete their studies. Funding of approximately €2.2m has been released under this strand for the 2017/18 academic year.

In November 2018 the Department of Education and Skills and HEA hosted a seminar in Tullamore on the PATH initiative. Approximately 160 people from HEIs, community organisations, Government Departments and State agencies attended the seminar which provided an opportunity for all those involved in PATH-funded projects to share experiences and disseminate best practice. Feedback has been positive and it has been agreed that the event will take place annually.

Fund for Students with Disabilities

Following the publication of a review of the Fund for Students with Disabilities (FSD) in 2017, an implementation group was established to progress the review’s recommendations. The group met twice during 2018 with the focus of its work is the phased implementation of a revised funding model based on a standard cost weighting approach. Under the 2018 funding allocations, HEIs were invited to begin preparations for the inclusion of learners on part-time courses under the FSD and may use their allocations to assist students on part-time courses on a pilot phased approach. FSD guidelines for the 2018/19 academic year have also been updated and redesigned arising from the FSD review.

Student Assistance Fund

Implementation of the recommendations from the Review of the Student Assistance Fund (SAF) continued during 2018. The additional funding provided to the SAF in 2017 for lone parents and part-time students continued in 2018. The implementation group established to progress the Review’s recommendations met twice during 2018. As part of the implementation of the Review, the HEA supported USI through the promotion of the SAF in student handbooks throughout campuses, highlighting in particular the additional changes to the Fund relating to its extension to part-time students and lone parents.

Student Success Working Group

The HEA chairs the Student Success Working Group which was established to address the issue of non-progression and noncompletion in higher education, particularly for those in under-represented target groups. The group met in December 2018 to review progress and developments to date.

Developments in 2018 included:

  • In May 2018 the HEA hosted a seminar addressing the theme of “Strategy for Student Success Development”. The requirement for every HEI to develop and implement a strategy for student success is specified in the System Performance Framework, 2018 -2021. The seminar, which was facilitated by the National Forum for Teaching and Learning, was a highly participative event and afforded attendees the opportunity to explore what an effective student success strategy might look like in the context of the need for a whole-of-institution approach.
  • THEA commenced a Study of Retention of Level 6 and Level 7 students in IoTs. This study will provide a more enhanced understanding of the determining factors that will enable IOTs to provide appropriate and responsive supports to students to increase progression.
  • The Data-Enabled Student Success Initiative (DESSI) initiative which is managed by the National Forum for Teaching and Learning aims to provide support and informed guidance to higher education institutions to explore or seek to develop their capacity for utilising student data to support learners and learning. In October 2018 the National Forum for Teaching and Learning hosted a National Symposium on Institutional Approaches to Using Data for Enhancing Student Success. The Forum was opened by the Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, and brought together key stakeholders to share national and international good practice.

Access Data Plan

In 2018 the HEA published a Data Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education. The plan arises from an objective in the National Access Plan to gather accurate data and evidence on access to higher education. During 2018 the HEA has carried out initial preliminary work on analysing data sources, including geocoding.

Access Forum

The second annual Access Forum took place in January 2018 and is part of the structure in place to underpin the implementation, monitoring and ongoing development of the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education. The Forum provides an opportunity for engagement between officials from the Department of Education and Skills, the HEA, those with responsibility in HEIs for the provision of access services as well as target group representatives and students. In particular, the 2018 Forum saw discussion on progress under the National Access Plan (thus feeding into the Progress Review published at the end of 2018) and wider social inclusion developments.