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Ireland’s Ambitious Plan for Inclusive Higher Education

This week the Irish Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris announced the new ‘National Access Plan 2022-2028′. The ‘strategic action plan for equity of access, participation and success in higher education’, aims to support inclusion and diversity in the Irish student body. The Minister’s ambition is to address the wider struggles and challenges for disadvantaged students.

Strategies outlined in the plan will focus on widening access and participation in Higher Education, but also emphasize the need to improve the graduation and employability rates of disadvantaged students and tackle high dropout rates. The plan accompanies increased funding for both students and HEIs to assist in achieving equity of access for all.

The statistics don’t lie. It is clear those from disadvantaged areas have a lesser chance of accessing higher education than those from more affluent areas.

Simon Harris TDMinister of Further and Higher Education, Innovation and Science

The Need for The NAP

The announcement of the new plan follows the release of worrying data from the Higher Education Authority over the last number of years. The data, revealing the inequalities in Irish Higher Education, shows that students from disadvantaged areas are underrepresented at university and are twice as likely to drop out.

The worst impacted students include those from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, members of Irish Traveller and Roma communities and students with disabilities. Widening participation strategies and funding such as the new National Access Plan, will be crucial to building an inclusive and equal society in Ireland.

Responsibility of Higher Education Institutions 

The Higher Education Authority requires all HEIs to have a strategy for student success and equity of access to education. HEIs must be able to show the steps they are taking to advance the participation of underrepresented groups and actively contribute to the goals, objectives and targets in the new access plan. This places a significant responsibility on universities to focus on improving retention rates and academic outcomes for vulnerable or disadvantaged students.

To improve success outcomes, HEIs should focus on the early identification of disadvantaged students. This will enable crucial early support for those that need it most. Technological innovations have made this process infinitely easier for institutions and staff. Implementing an early-alert system to recognize students who are failing to attend university or engage with their course will facilitate critical early intervention to get students back on track. To ensure staff and students are best supported for student success a proactive, holistic approach from HEIs is needed.


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