Supporting all to reach their full educational potential
Universities are posh places for posh people. This old hat used to be true, now is partially true and has largely been overcome by middle Ireland.
More than half of 25 to 64-year-olds in Ireland have a third-level qualification, the highest in the EU according to CSO data.
But for many groups in Ireland university education remains a distant prospect preserved for the lucky few. These groups include those on very low incomes living in geographically disadvantaged areas. It includes people who are disabled physically or with regard to their mental health. It includes groups like Travellers and Roma, and newly arrived migrants to Ireland.
The Access Centre at the University of Galway works to ensure greater participation from under-represented groups, and established in 2020, the university’s Widening Participation Committee works specifically towards progressing this agenda in all areas across the university.
The committee sees Widening Participation (WP) having three elements to it:
1) Creating a more inclusive environment for students who would be traditionally regarded as underrepresented in Higher Education
2) A set of policies and activities developed to improve (1)
3) These WP activities and policies take place across the full student lifecycle: Pre-entry, transition, post-entry, and employment.
The Access Centre provides support for students with disabilities, students participating in access programmes and mature students.
The university has seen a large increase over the years of students registering for disability supports which reflects greater numbers of disabled people accessing education genearlly and perhaps greater confidence amongst disabled people that their disabilities will be catered for and won’t be used against them (see table above).
Another area of increase is the Further Education pathway which allows students to start their education journey at post Leaving Cert and Further Education colleges and move on into university. From 7 students in 2010, the number reached 152 in 2020.
In 2018, the university’s Further Education to Higher Education Committee was established. Meeting on a monthly basis, this group sets out to foster greater collaboration between both sectors and to increase the progression opportunities for students from the Further Education sector.
In the 2022 Widening Participation Committee report, chair John Hannon said:
“Extensive work has been done to move us closer to a University population that reflects the social mix of the general population.
“The commitment to Widening Participation extends throughout the University and it is through a whole-of-institution approach that we stand the best chance of ensuring students from underrepresented groups in HE can access, participate and succeed in the University of Galway.”