CAO offers to disabled and poor jump 61pc
There has been a big jump this year in the number of college offers to students from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds.
Special access programmes that allow such students to enter universities and colleges with lower CAO points than other students have boosted their chances.
As well as the incentive of lower points, this year such students also benefited from a streamlined CAO application process.
It led to a record 10,700 CAO applications from students in families suffering socio-economic disadvantage, or students with a disability.
In turn, the level of CAO offers to students in such categories jumped 61pc, to 1,661, about 10 times the increase in college offers generally.
It is part of a national effort to increase the number of students from families with no tradition of going to college, or students with a disability, participating in higher education.
While about 90pc of children whose parents are professionals go to college, this is as low as 27pc for students from low socio-economic backgrounds.
Colleges reserve a quota of places under the access schemes and the points concession varies between the institutions.
The points waiver is typically about 40-50 points lower than the minimum CAO threshold, although that can vary.
Access students also have to meet minimum entry requirements.
In the case of arts in UCD, which had a round one points cut-off of 365, an access student could enter on 320, while in the case of radiography at UCD, which had a points cut-off of 525, the minimum for an access student was 400.
The access programmes involved are The Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) and the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR), which were integrated into the CAO application system this year. Previously, HEAR was confined to students attending schools in the DEIS scheme, which are designated disadvantaged, but mainstreaming it into the CAO system opened it up to second-level schools nationwide.
While DEIS schools are concentrated in areas of urban disadvantage, the mainstreaming of HEAR was a boon to students in rural non-DEIS schools, from families with little or no tradition of going to college.
Access schemes are effective in overcoming the effects of disadvantage as shown by the recent Trinity Access Programme report -- which shows that the quality of degrees attained by access graduates mirrors those attained by other graduates.
Irish Universities Association Access Manager Maureen Dunne said the current economic climate reinforced the importance of tackling the problem of exclusion.
"Disadvantaged groups are even less likely to get jobs in a tight labour market, and this problem is magnified greatly for people with lower educational attainment," she said.
"The HEAR and DARE initiatives help overcome this problem by boosting access to college and helping disadvantaged students fulfil their true potential," she added.