Revised HEAR scheme aims to reach more disadvantaged groups

The Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) has completed a review of its effectiveness in targeting those groups who, historically, have not accessed higher education due to socioeconomic barriers and will launch a revised version of the scheme in 2025. 

Initially rolled out in 2008, HEAR was established in recognition of the obstacles that students from disadvantaged backgrounds face when pursuing higher education. It sought to address these challenges by providing an alternative entry scheme in which universities and colleges developed a set of common criteria to offer places on reduced points to school leavers from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds who are resident in the Republic of Ireland.

Improving participation

Overall the HEAR scheme has contributed significantly to improving participation in higher education by young people experiencing socio-economic disadvantage. 

However, in the context of the National Access Plan 2022-2028, additional target groups, including lone parents, teen parents, and Irish Travellers have not been specifically targeted by this scheme. HEAR therefore underwent a review process, which would assess its effectiveness, identify the areas which need to be improved, and to recommend the actions needed to enhance the scheme to ensure that applicants experiencing socio-economic barriers to higher education are addressed. This review was conducted in consultation with the wider education sector including students themselves. 

New version coming

The revised version of HEAR scheme will come into operation in 2025. Now operational in every public Higher Education Institution in Ireland, the first beneficiaries will apply in the 2024/25 academic year, and be admitted into higher education in Autumn 2025. 

The revised HEAR scheme will still include most of the same criteria for eligibility but it will introduce a system of prioritisation where those who are most affected by socioeconomic disadvantage will be prioritised for offers. 

One of the key enhancements of the revised HEAR scheme is its commitment to include Irish Travellers and Roma students. These communities have historically faced extreme marginalization, resulting in low participation rates in higher education. HEAR recognises the need to redress this imbalance by offering a prioritised entry route for these students, acknowledging the unique challenges they encounter.

The revised HEAR scheme also addresses the challenges faced by young parents who wish to continue their education. Many students who become parents while still attending post-primary school encounter difficulties balancing their parental responsibilities with their academic pursuits. HEAR recognizes this barrier for these students and will also prioritise them to help them to pursue higher education while fulfilling their parental duties.

These measures are taken in addition to the specific inclusion of young people who are in the care of the state or TUSLA. These students often face complex life circumstances and may lack the necessary support networks to navigate the higher education system. HEAR aims to bridge this gap by including them in it revised model of prioritisation. 

Inclusive and equitable

HEAR is a testament to the higher education sector’s commitment to fostering inclusivity and diversity within its higher education institutions. 

In acknowledging the challenges faced by these groups and individuals, the Higher Education Institutions participating in HEAR are sending a powerful message that, if they choose to do so, there is an opportunity for everyone to pursue higher education and reach their full potential.

The dedicated staff of post-primary schools and the wider education sector have always played a crucial role in spreading awareness about the HEAR scheme and ensuring that students are informed and supported throughout the application process. 

Together, we can continue to make strides towards a more inclusive and equitable higher education landscape in Ireland.

For more information about HEAR, visit 

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