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.


Notes for Editors

Further information on the PATH Fund and the Review of An independent Review to identify the supports and barriers for lone parents in accessing higher education  are available at: www.education.ie/en/Publications/Education-Reports/supports-barriers-lone-parents-accessing-HEd.pdf and www.hea.ie

National Access Plan

The third National Access Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education (2015 – 2019) was launched in December 2015. The vision of the National Access Plan is to ensure that the student body entering into, participating in and completing higher education at all levels reflects the diversity and social mix of Ireland's population. There are 6 key target groups identified in the Plan. These comprise:

  • Entrants from socio-economic groups that have low participation in higher education;
  • First time, mature student entrants;
  • Students with disabilities;
  • Part-time/flexible learners;
  • Further education award holders; and
  • Irish Travellers.

The Plan contains targets to increase participation rates by each of these groups. In order to achieve these targets, the Plan contains more than 30 actions around the following 5 keys goals –

  • To mainstream the delivery of access within Higher Education Institutions;
  • To assess the impact of access initiatives;
  • To develop access data;
  • To building coherent pathways;
  • To develop regional and community partnership.

A Steering Group has been established to oversee progress of the key actions/targets in the National Access Plan. Progress under the National Access Plan is reported at the end of each year through an annual forum. A mid-term review of the National Access Plan is expected to commence by the end of 2017.

Summary of the package of new measures to widen access to Higher Education

An additional €8.5million was announced in Budget 2017 for access measures to promote participation by under-represented groups in higher education. €4m of which enabled the re-introduction of maintenance grants for the most disadvantage students who wished to progress to postgraduate study in the 2017/18 academic year under the student grants scheme.

€3.5m has been added to the Programme for Access to Third Level (PATH) fund in 2017. This fund was established subsequent to the launch of the National Access Plan by the Department of Education and Skills (DES) This Fund comprises dedicated funding to support access to higher education, which is allocated on a competitive basis to higher education institutions to support particular priority areas as determined by the DES.

Funding of €2.4m was made available in Budget 2016 for widening access to initial teacher education under PATH 1.  Higher Education Clusters will now be invited by the Higher Education Authority to submit proposals for either PATH 2 or PATH 3, or under both strands.

to relates to the following:

  • PATH 2: the 1916 Bursary Fund.  
  • PATH 3: the Higher Education Access Fund 

PATH 2 – “1916 Bursaries”

€6m to be invested in “The 1916 Bursaries Fund” over three years for the socio economically disadvantaged students from under-represented target groups. Lone parents and ethnic minorities will also be a target group for this fund. Bursaries will be awarded to students who have been identified by their HEI as being the most socio-economically disadvantaged students in the target groups. These Bursaries differ from existing bursaries in a number of respects, in that they are targeted at non-traditional entry and can support undergraduate study on either a full or part-time basis. Each bursary will be in the amount of €5,000 per annum (and could be on top of a SUSI grant if the person qualifies for a SUSI grant).  Funding will be initially provided for the award of bursaries to 200 students for the duration of their studies in each of the next 3 academic years, commencing in 2017/18, 600 students in total. The Bursary Fund will commemorate the centenary of 1916 and underlines the Government’s commitment to the type of equality of opportunity envisaged by the 1916 signatories. 40 of the “1916 bursaries” will be earmarked for socio-economically disadvantaged lone parents. Students will be entitled to hold the 1916 Bursary and the student grant simultaneously, where they meet the eligibility conditions of the student grant scheme.  The 1916 Bursary will be an income disregard for the purposes of ‘reckonable income’ in the student grant scheme.  Students are not entitled to receive the 1916 Bursary in conjunction with any other bursary or scholarship.

PATH 3 Higher Education Access Fund

This new fund is intended to support regional clusters of higher education institutions to attract 2,000 additional students from groups currently under-represented in higher education. The Higher Education Access Fund will be allocated on a competitive basis to the regional clusters of Higher Education Institutions with the purpose of attracting up to 2,000 new undergraduate students (full-time or part-time) from the target groups identified in the National Access Plan, into higher education by the end of Year 3, and to ensure that those students are supported to complete their programme of study. Proposals from clusters will also be expected to target the sub groups mentioned in the National Access Plan: namely, lone parents and ethnic minorities (including recently arrived programme refugees). At least 10% of all places will be targeted at lone parents. Funding of €2.5 million per annum is available for PATH Strand 3 for the next three years. This amounts to funding of €7.5m over the three year period.

In total €3m extra will be added to the Student Assistance Fund (SAF) over the next three years and ring-fenced to enable participation in higher education on a part-time basis for lone parents and other target groups. The SAF, which is co-financed by the ESF, provides financial assistance to full-time under graduate or post-graduate students in need of such support.  SAF is intended to support students whose participation in higher education would otherwise be at risk as a direct result of financial difficulties.  It is to assist students who are unable to meet costs associated with day to day participation in higher education including books, class materials, rent, heating and lighting bills, food, essential travel, medical costs and in the case of parent students’ childcare costs. The SAF is allocated annually by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) to the universities, the institutes of technology, the colleges of education and a number of other higher education institutions.  Funding is provided on the basis of student numbers and each institution disburses the fund to students on application.

Background to the independent Review to identify the supports and barriers for lone parents in accessing higher education

The Programme for Government included a commitment to prepare a report on the barriers to lone parents accessing higher education. Following a procurement process, NUI Maynooth was engaged by the Department of Education and Skills to conduct the Review.

The terms of reference for the Review were as follows:

  • Examine existing data to identify the trends in participation and completion rates by lone parents in higher education, and identify measures to strengthen data collation on lone parents in the future.
  • Describe the range of measures that are currently available to support lone parents in accessing higher education, including supports in the school and further education sectors.
  • Identify obstacles and challenges for the various different categories of lone parents in accessing and completing  higher education programmes
  • Recommend additional measures that would support the different categories of lone parents to access and complete higher education programmes, and provide costings for those recommendations
  • Highlight potential models of ‘good practice’ in Ireland or elsewhere that could be considered for wider dissemination.

The Review was initiated in July 2016 and was recently completed. This is a complex policy area that involved three Government Departments and consultation with lone parents.

The work was overseen by a steering committee chaired by the Department of Education and Skills, and included representation from the Departments of Social Protection, Children and Youth Affairs and the Higher Education Authority (HEA). There was consultation with the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government.