Significant progress has been made in terms of equality of access to education but the momentum still needs to be sustained, Dr Don Thornhill, chairman of the Higher Education Authority (HEA) told a conference in Killarney this morning.
The two-day conference will set the agenda for achieving equity of access to higher education in Ireland. At the event, organised by the National Office for Equity of Access to Higher Education, Thornhill will cite new research showing a sharp rise in the proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds entering college.
The Economic and Social Research Institure survey of students entering college in 2003/4 shows that participation rates in third-level education by children coming from semi-skilled or unskilled manual homes doubled from 23pc in 1998 to 47pc in 2003, while the rate in the skilled manual category rose from 32pc to 60pc. This compares with participation rates from all backgrounds during the same period climbing from 44pc to 54pc.
Former Education Minister Noel Dempsey TD established the National Office for Equity of Access to Higher Education in 2003 in response to HEA submissions that a coherent and consistent national strategy was required to develop policy and practice on equity of access to higher education.
Education Minister Mary Hanafin TD is to launch the Office’s Action Plan 2005-2007 at the conference later today. The plan identifies a number of important goals for immediate action. These include communicating the rationale for equity of access; developing a national framework of equity of access policies and initiatives towards the linking of all disadvantaged regions, schools and communities with at least one higher-education institution; and supporting higher-education institutions in pursuing a practical agenda for achieving equity of access as a core part of institutional strategy.
Thornhill told the conference that the plan represents an important milestone both for the HEA and the education sector generally. “There have been significant improvements in overall participation in higher education in recent decades, including the participation of under-represented groups. However, if we are to make real progress a more concerted effort is required to transform our higher education system into one that encourages and enables diverse learners to enter, successfully participate and complete higher education.”
By Brian Skelly