| 16.6°C Dublin

Greater access for the disadvantaged

It is hard enough to get the place you want in college under normal circumstances; it is even harder if you are coping with such circumstances as socio-economic disadvantage, or a disability.

Promoting wider and more equitable access to higher education is a stated objective of Government and of Higher Education Institutes.

Anyone visiting the CAO homepage will notice two icons entitled HEAR and DARE, which are links to two access schemes that are now a formal part of the application process.

HEAR (the Higher Education Access Route) is a third-level admissions scheme for school leavers from disadvantaged backgrounds.

DARE (Disability Access Route to Education) is a development of the supplementary admissions scheme for students with disabilities.

What colleges use HEAR?

DCU, NUI Galway, NUI Maynooth, Pontifical University Maynooth, TCD, UCD, UCC, UL, DIT, Coláiste Mhuire Marino, Church of Ireland College of Education, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, Mater Dei Institute of Education, National College of Ireland, St Angela's College, Sligo, and St Patrick's College, Drumcondra, Dublin 9, all use the programme.

How do you know if you are entitled to apply through HEAR?

Each HEAR applicant is assessed in relation to six criteria or indicators, and they must satisfy a number of these. The first of these is low family income, and all applicants must meet this condition, and some specific combinations of two of the five other conditions, which are: that applicants' families receive social welfare payments, or hold medical cards, that the applicant is a member of a socio-economic group underrepresented in college; that an applicant attended a DEIS school; or the applicant lives in an area of concentrated disadvantage.

How does DARE operate?

All higher education institutions are also anxious to provide for applicants who have difficulties with a medical or physical condition, or a specific learning disability.

Indeed they have a legal obligation to support such students. CAO encourages applicants to bring any learning difficulty or disability to the attention of the higher education institutions to which they are applying.

A number of colleges have developed DARE for school leavers who have the ability to benefit from higher education but who may not be able to meet the points for their preferred course due to the impact of a disability.

The colleges are Athlone Institute of Technology, DIT, Mater Dei Institute of Education, National College of Ireland, and the eight universities.

Students suffering from any of the following conditions are eligible for consideration: Asperger's Syndrome/Autism; Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); Blind/Vision Impaired; Deaf/Hearing Impaired; Dyspraxia; Mental Health Condition; Neurological Conditions (including Brain Injury, Speech and Language Disabilities); Significant Ongoing Illness; Physical Disability; and Specific Learning Difficulties (including Dyslexia and Dyscalculia).

It can take a number of months to gather official verification of a disability, so it is important to start gathering documentation as soon as possible.

Some colleges operate quotas for HEAR and DARE applicants. UCD, for example, sets aside a minimum of 15% of places in all courses to be divided between HEAR, DARE and mature applicants, while NUI Galway allocates 20%. Athlone IT, on the other hand, has places available on all programmes for DARE applicants, but does not operate a quota.

All details regarding the schemes are available at www.accesscollege.ie.

Open day tomorrow in the National College of Ireland, IFSC, Mayor St, Dublin 1, from 11am-2pm

Irish Independent