Dáil Éireann - Volume 599 - 24 March, 2005

Written Answers. - Higher Education.

  179. Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science if UCD, TCD, DCU and DIT will co-operate in locating a facility at the proposed new Cherry Orchard housing and retail development in order to work with the local community to redress the very low participation rate in third level education. [9815/05]

  Ms Hanafin: I am not aware of proposals for the co-operation of certain third level institutions to establish a facility in Cherry Orchard. However, I share the Deputy’s concern on the need to promote widest possible participation in the third level sector, and a number of measures have been put in place to address this, including the following: first, the establishment of the National Office for Equity of Access to Higher Education in 2004. This is intended to build upon work which has been conducted to date and to facilitate increasingly inclusive and equitable access to higher education from among members of under-represented groups in higher education. In this regard, the national office has produced a [2122] national action plan which was developed in consultation with stakeholders. Among the important issues addressed in the plan is the development of the most effective means nationally of encouraging and supporting co-operation and action at all levels of the education system towards increasing access and participation in higher education by learners from disadvantaged schools and communities. The national office, in identifying the future road map with quantitative and qualitative targets linked to the allocation of financial resources, has been asked to give particular attention to the setting of national and institutional targets for participation in higher education by the socio-economically disadvantaged, those from the Traveller community, students with disabilities and mature students.

Second, in addition to the student support maintenance grant schemes under which over 56,000 students benefit, the Department of Education and Science has responsibility for dedicated measures, particularly through the third-level access fund, to promote access and participation opportunities for students including disadvantaged and mature students and students with disabilities, in higher and further education.

Third, under the social inclusion measures in the NDP, priority is to be accorded in the third level access fund to tackling under-representation by three target groups: students from disadvantaged backgrounds, students with disabilities and mature students. The third level access fund comprises the following funds/measures: special rates of maintenance grants for disadvantaged students — top-up grants — the ESF-aided student assistance fund, the ESF-aided fund for students with disabilities, the ESF-aided millennium partnership fund for disadvantage and the national office for equity of access to third level education. Since 1997, spending on these third level access measures funded directly by the Department of Education and Science increased from €0.50 million to a provision of almost €33 million in 2004. This represents a quantum leap in the commitment of resources.