Ministers announce €16.5m to increase Third Level Access

23 August 2017 

Ministers announce €16.5m to increase Third Level Access

New measures to target Lone Parents and Disadvantaged Groups  - Over 2,000 Students to be supported, including at least 200 Lone Parents

The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, TD, and the Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, TD, today (Wednesday 23rd August) announced €16.5m for new initiatives to widen access to higher education over the next three years, with a strong focus on helping lone parents to access higher level education. A key area where we need to be the best is using education to break down the barriers of disadvantage, and open up pathways for those who might easily miss out.

Minister Bruton and Minister Mitchell O’Connor today announced: 

  • Funding bursaries worth €5,000 for 600 students coming from non-traditional backgrounds into college, with support for at least 120 socio-economically disadvantaged lone parents. This will be a €6m regional call over three years.
  • Funding for support programmes to help 2,000 students, of which 200 will be lone parents, from non-traditional backgrounds enter college and successfully complete their course. This will be a €7.5m regional call over three years.
  • A further €3m over three years in increased funding for the hardship supports to help students, with Lone parents being prioritised

The funding will support a range of new initiatives and partnerships to support over 2,000 extra students from disadvantaged groups to participate in third level education over the next three years. Higher Education Clusters are now invited to submit proposals for funding and the most innovative ideas will be supported. 

The groups being targeted include: entrants from under-represented socio-economic groups and communities; entrants with disabilities; mature entrants; members of the Irish Traveller community; students entering on the basis of a further education award; part-time flexible learners; as well as socio-economically disadvantaged lone parents and ethnic minorities.

The announcement of these initiatives follows the publication today of an independent Review which looked at access to higher education by lone parents. A particular priority will be put on supporting lone parents.

The latest data available from the HEA shows that access to third level by disadvantaged groups is improving. In particular, the number and share of students from disadvantaged backgrounds rose from 22% to 26%, and of students with a disability rose from 7% to 11% between 2012/13 and 2014/15. The extra funding is designed to accelerate this progress.

The announcement today follows the announcement by Minister Bruton last April of measures to support 120 people from disadvantaged groups to become teachers, an initiative designed to create strong role models within the community. It also follows measures announced in Budget 2017 to reinstate postgraduate maintenance grants for the most disadvantaged students. It is expected to benefit some 1,100 postgraduate students.

Minister Bruton said: 

“At the heart of everything we are doing in education is ensuring that every child has the opportunity to fulfil their potential, regardless of their circumstances. Education has a unique capacity to break down the cycles of disadvantage. By helping more students to fulfil their potential by staying in education longer and going to third level, we can help build the Republic of Opportunity which the government is committed to doing.

“Today’s announcement will help more people from disadvantaged groups to get to third level, which is a major goal of the Action Plan for Education. Initiatives such as these have the potential to really help to break the cycle of disadvantage for many communities. That is my priority as Minister for Education.”

“Lone parents and ethnic minorities are included as a target group for the initiatives announced today. 120 bursaries will be earmarked for disadvantaged lone parents participating in Higher Education on either a full time or part time basis. At least 200 of the new students to be targeted by the Higher Education Access Fund will be lone parents. The allocation of the €1m to the Student Assistance Fund for part-time students will be prioritised for lone parents.”

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said: 

“There are real opportunities with the new initiatives for regional clusters of higher education institutions to build their relationships and their capacity to deliver innovative ways of engaging local communities and other relevant groups within the cluster of institutions to reach out to target groups, including lone parents.”

“The Review re-enforces the clear returns for lone parents in participating in higher education, in terms of not only enhancing their socio economic circumstances, but also that of their children. The Review and the system wide response to it will have a positive impact on lone parents by enabling and encouraging greater participation in higher education”.

“The new measures being announced today and this Review are intended to provide target groups and lone parents with more opportunities to reach their potential. They broaden the options available to students from the target groups by supporting participation on a part-time basis.”

“My Department’s planned actions to support lone parents will be complemented by measures that have already been announced by the Minister for Social Protection and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.”

The Review acknowledges the on-going wider reform of policy relating to lone parents. A cross Departmental group will also be established, chaired by the Department of Education and Skills, to respond to the recommendations of the review.

Both Ministers extended their best wishes to the regional clusters in their bid for funding under the new strands of PATH and their thanks to Maynooth University and to the members of the Steering Group for the lone parents Review. They extended their encouragement to those potential students from target groups to engage directly with the access offices in local higher education institutions to establish their options.

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