Poorer students can outperform others through college foundation courses

Disadvantaged students fare better socially and academically with on-campus supports

Students taking part in a “Think About Teaching” university foundation course at Maynooth University. (From top left) Anne O’Brien, Wendy Dixon, Temera O’Brien, Emma O’Brien, Aoife O’Reilly, Megan Shannon and Nicola Murphy. Photo: Damien Eagers

Students taking part in a “Think About Teaching” university foundation course at Maynooth University. (From top left) Anne O’Brien, Wendy Dixon, Temera O’Brien, Emma O’Brien, Aoife O’Reilly, Megan Shannon and Nicola Murphy. Photo: Damien Eagers

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Students from disadvantaged backgrounds who get into to university through special access routes can outperform regular students when they have on-campus foundation courses, new research shows.

A study by Dr Katriona O’Sullivan of Maynooth University indicates that special-access students do better socially and academically when they have these supports in a university setting.

Despite these outcomes, she said universities in Ireland were still not funded by the State to provide foundation courses.

Instead, they were reliant on philanthropy or end up running courses on a “shoe-string” by cutting costs elsewhere.

Access students who take part in foundation courses in university settings are also ineligible for vital financials supports, such as student grants or, in the case of under-23s, the back-to-education welfare allowance, she said.

This meant many of these disadvantaged students end up having to work part-time to fund their way through their first year in college, Dr O’Sullivan said.

The findings are due to be discussed at the annual Higher Education Lifelong Learning Ireland Network conference on Friday.

Lifelong learning

The conference aims to explore the value of lifelong learning and the role that higher education can play in supporting adult learners to explore their full potential.

Student Wendy Dixon, who is studying on a foundation courses offered at Maynooth University, said the support has been crucial.

She left school aged 15 and comes from a family where higher education was never discussed as an option.

While she went on to become a hairdresser, she says she always wanted to become a teacher but never had the opportunity.

She is now studying at Maynooth on a foundation course which provides a entry route into teaching.

Ms Dixon has to work while studying in order to support herself and her young family.

Full potential

Dr Derek Barter, chair of the Higher Education Lifelong Learning Ireland Network, said it was vital to ensure that adult learner have every opportunity to explore their full potential.

“Learning spans the lifetime of every individual. The contexts in which learning takes place cannot be separated from the influences of political, social and economic concerns,” he said.

“This year’s conference will ask some difficult questions of the whole landscape of the formal education system.

“It will also argue for an alternative vision for education through the lens of lifelong learning and consider how things might better be achieved as we move through the 21st century.”

Access programme

Senator Lynn Ruane, who entered Trinity College Dublin through an access programme, is due to facilitate a conference workshop which will emphasises the importance of providing on-campus foundation courses.

“With the changes in politics, and society overall, there has never been a more important time to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to engage meaningfully with lifelong learning,” she said.

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