Hundreds of lower income students to receive bursaries
More than 2,000 students to be supported under initiative to widen access to third level
More than 2,000 students will be supported through a range of programmes over the next three years. Photograph: Frank Miller
Hundreds of disadvantaged students are to be awarded bursaries worth up to €5,000 annually as part of an plan to widen access to third-level education.
There is a major class divide across much of higher education with more than 90 per cent of students progressing to higher education in affluent areas, compared to as few as 16 per cent in poorer districts.
Minister for Education Richard Bruton will announce plans on Wednesday to invest more than €16 million into new initiatives to increase the proportion of under-represented groups at third level, such as Travellers, people with disabilities and those living in lower incomes areas.
A key focus of the new measures will also target lone parents and ethnic minorities. In all, more than 2,000 students will be supported through a range of programmes over the next three years.
While these numbers on their own will not significantly dent the participation gap nationally, latest figures indicate that colleges are making strides in increasing their intake of under-represented groups.
Higher Education Authority figures show the share of students from disadvantaged backgrounds rose from 22 per cent to 26 per cent between 2012 and 2015, while the proportion of students with a disability rose from 7 per cent to 11 per cent over the same timeframe.
Fulfil their potential
Mr Bruton said the aim of the latest programme was to help ensure school-leavers have 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,” he said.
The first 200 of a total of 600 bursaries worth €5,000 per year will be distributed in the coming academic year and may be paid in addition to any grant aid a student is entitled to.
However, students are not entitled to receive the funding in conjunction with any other bursary or scholarship.
It will be up to individual colleges on how they identify students for these financial supports, guided by policies set down by the Department of Education.
Colleges will also receive funding to develop innovative access programmes to help increase their intake of under-represented students.
A further €3 million in increased funding is to be made available for hardship supports to help students, with lone parents being prioritised.
A new review commissioned by the Department of Education has also examined some of the key obstacles facing lone parents from accessing higher education.
On foot of this, a cross-departmental group will be established, chaired by the Department of Education, to respond to the recommendations.
Minister with responsibility for higher education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said the findings re-enforced the 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,” she said.
“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,” she said.