Colleges still closed to poorer students
BY MICHAEL PIERSE
The Union of Students of Ireland (USI) says that the Dublin government programme to attract students from disadvantaged backgrounds into university has failed. USI was responding to reports this week that government targets for access schemes have not been met.
According to a report in Monday's Irish Independent, only 130 students entered university on access schemes last year. The government had set itself a target of 500. The access schemes provide a variety of mechanisms to help students who have failed to attain enough points for a college course enter if they can prove they have been disadvantaged. However, USI believes that the schemes are not being implemented properly.
According to Colm Jordan, the Education Officer with USI, ``the problem is not with the strategy of reserved places. There is a serious problem with implementation. We need a minister with the courage to tackle this issue head on and put in place imaginative solutions''.
According to Jordan, these imaginative solutions would include a system of `top-up' grants for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This suggestion is currently being considered by the Department of Education, though they have yet to announce details of their own proposals.
USI is also calling for a new model for the access programmes, based on a mix of the most successful aspects of the current scheme, with the introduction of a minimum national and local quota on the amount of disadvantaged students to be allocated third-level places. The group established under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness to co-ordinate a framework to promote disadvantage access, must be given adequate resources to implement its recommendations, they say.
The union also says that there are not enough routes open to those who have completed Post Leaving Cert courses and want to pursue a university course. ``In 1998, 1,400 students transferred from Post Leaving Cert courses to courses in the institutes of technology,'' said Jordan. ``No such provision exists to transfer to the universities. We must open as many routes as possible to higher education.''