Monday 26 September 2016

Barriers to equal access to third-level still out there

Published 09/11/2015 | 02:30

No one side of Irish third-level education should be the preserve of any one social grouping
No one side of Irish third-level education should be the preserve of any one social grouping

The huge increase in the numbers progressing to third-level suggest in-roads in the battle to broaden access across the class divide. Almost 60pc of 18 to 20-year-olds in Ireland are in college compared with about 44pc almost decade ago. But, such comforting headlines mask the troubling picture painted in the new 'who goes where' data.

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Why is it, for instance, that only one in four Trinity freshers are on a student grant, while in Letterkenny IT, it is almost three in four? The Irish mammy's apron strings may take some of the blame for the strong tradition of students attending the college closest to them.

There are wider reasons, among them cultural barriers faced in families with no history of third-level education.

Another is an inability to match the points attained by those who can afford to pay for grinds, on top of, perhaps, the increased resources of a fee-paying school. And if an ambitious school-leaver overcomes all of that, there is the cost of college, even with a grant.

It is not only a rural-urban phenomenon. Disadvantaged students living a bus ride from Trinity or UCD may feel similarly excluded.

Institutes of technology have done a fine job bringing third-level education to the regions and to families with no college tradition. They play a particular role providing not only honours degree programmes, but also courses at ordinary degree and higher certificate levels.

But no one side of Irish third-level education should be the preserve of any one social grouping.

Irish Independent

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