UCD plans to reserve 70 places a year for disadvantaged students

UNIVERSITY College Dublin is to reserve up to 70 places each year for students from disadvantaged backgrounds under a proposed…

UNIVERSITY College Dublin is to reserve up to 70 places each year for students from disadvantaged backgrounds under a proposed new equal access programme.

The announcement was made by the college president, Dr Art Cosgrove, as he presented a new report on the difficulties facing students from disadvantaged backgrounds in entering third-level education.

The report found students from disadvantaged areas are still being excluded from higher education, principally because of financial barriers.

Under UCD's proposed Equal Participation Admissions Programme, 2 per cent of places in all faculties would be reserved for such students outside the CAO applications system. A similar structure was proposed by Dublin City University last week, under which disadvantaged students would be selected on the basis of a means test, interview and their Leaving Cert results.


Dr Cosgrove said universities have the lowest levels of participation by schoolgoers from the least privileged sectors of society. In 1993, only 3.6 per cent of degree students came from the Priorswood and Darndale areas of north Dublin, compared to 46.5 per cent from Rathmines and Terenure on Dublin's south side.

According to the new report by UCD's Equality Studies Centre, relative poverty and inadequate maintenance grants continue to prevent disadvantaged students from entering higher education.

The report, entitled Social Class, Inequality and Higher Education, was funded by the Higher Education Authority and was presented to its chairman, Mr C. Noel Lindsay, yesterday. It suggests it is "impossible to have substantive equality in education without having greater economic equality between different social groups in society".

Mr Lindsay said the problem of educational disadvantage could not be solved at third level. "There is no doubt in my mind that it starts at primary level and it is certainly a key factor at second level," he said.

The report's findings were based on interviews with over 120 people from around the State, including teachers, community workers and second and third-level students.

The researchers found poverty had the direct effect of making it impossible for students to have any real educational choices, since they had to work or borrow to stay in school or college. Poverty also depressed students' expectations, so that they aspired to short-term financial goals.

The single most popular recommendation among all groups was that the third-level maintenance grant should be increased. The maximum maintenance grant for third-level students is currently £1,600 per year, but the Union of Students in Ireland has estimated that the real cost of attending college for a student living away from home is almost £5,000. In the last 10 years, the real value of the maintenance grant has fallen by 20 per cent.

The points system was also regarded as unfair by those surveyed, since it favoured those with superior resources. "Disadvantage is relative," said Dr Kathleen Lynch, one of the report's authors. "In a system of relative advantage and disadvantage, it is impossible for people without equal resources to compete."

Dr Lynch said that a full review of the points system was now necessary, but Mr Lindsay said it would be difficult to find an alternative to the points system which was "both fair and objective".

The report also identifies an "information deficit" among second-level students, which prevents their progress to higher education. "Some people had never heard of the points system," said Dr Lynch.