Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris TD launched a €9 million fund for higher education institutions to improve access to higher education for students with an intellectual disability.

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are being asked for three-year proposals on how they can improve access and enhance course provision for students with intellectual disabilities.

The funding falls under phase 2 of PATH 4 of the National Access Plan which highlighted the need to improve and increase representation in higher education for students with a disability including students with autism and students with intellectual disabilities.

Phase 1 of PATH 4 saw €3 million allocated to support the embedding of universal design approaches and inclusive practices in HEIs to benefit all students including those with autism and intellectual disabilities.

Announcing Phase 2 today, Minister Harris said:

It has been an overriding objective of mine since becoming Minister to create a higher education system that is equal and accessible to all.

Today is a significant day. It is the first time my Department has provided a specific fund for Higher Education Institutions to provide courses for students with an intellectual disability.

I want to encourage all institutions to engage with this call and I am looking forward to hearing what they are planning over the coming months to ensure greater inclusion and successful outcomes for students.

I want to thank the institutions who are currently involved in providing courses for the great work they do.

I had the opportunity to meet some of the students already and to hear from them on how much these courses are benefitting and changing their lives.

We have much more to do to ensure all students succeed and grow each day on their educational journey.

This competitive funding call, with ring fenced funding of €3 million per year over the next three years, will move us further in this direction and help inform future policy considerations in respect of students with intellectual disabilities in Higher Education.

The competitive call is being issued and managed by the Higher Education Authority.

CEO of the HEA, Dr. Alan Wall said: “Students with intellectual disabilities are for the first time a priority group in the National Access Plan, and it is our ambition in the HEA to make sure that this cohort of students belong within our HEIs.

“PATH 4 Phase 2, a ground-breaking initiative, will improve opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities to engage in higher education.

“Together with the universal design approaches and practices being delivered as part of Phase 1 of PATH 4, the engagement of students with intellectual disabilities in higher education is laying the foundations for innovative ways of improving equity in HEIs and this is core for the future of our society.”

The student voice was central to the development of this call for proposals with the HEA facilitating a series of in-person and online consultation workshops with the support of the Inclusive National Higher Education Forum (INHEF).

The National Disability Authority (NDA) also provided advice to the HEA and the Department throughout this process.

Minister Harris made the announcement in Dublin today as he attended the fifth in a series of meetings between senior department officials and institutional leaders. This meeting is aimed at driving stronger regional collaboration on some of the major challenges facing the country.

The fourth National Access Plan (NAP) – a Strategic Action Plan for Equity of Access, Participation and Success in Higher Education 2022-2028 launched on 31 August 2022 setting out our ambition to support inclusion and diversity in our student body, address the wider struggles and challenges for students, and deliver sustainable progress across the higher education sector.

This is a seven-year plan with an additional dedicated investment of €35 million.

The NAP has identified a number of priority-groups who continue to be underrepresented in higher education and which need additional focus and support.

These are:

  • Students who are socio-economically disadvantaged
  • Students who are members of Irish Traveller and Roma communities
  • Students with disabilities including intellectual disabilities.  

This Plan was developed collaboratively between the Department and the HEA and was informed by a significant consultation process with interested stakeholders, including higher education institutions, students, Individuals, representatives of priority groups, and other government departments and agencies.

An inclusive higher education system is a priority for Ireland’s economic, social and equality objectives.

For the first time, students with intellectual disabilities are specifically named within the NAP as a group who are underrepresented in Higher Education.

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National targets for the new National Access Plan are as follows: 

New entrants from socioeconomically disadvantaged areas

Current transition rate between school and higher education

Target transition rate between school and higher education

42%

54%

New mature entrants from socioeconomically disadvantaged areas

Current % of mature new entrants from disadvantaged areas

(as a % of all disadvantaged new entrants)

Target % of mature new entrants from disadvantaged areas

(as a % of all disadvantaged new entrants)

11%

20%

New entrants with a disability

Current % of students with a disability
(as a % of all new entrants)

Target % of students with a disability
(as a % of all new entrants)

12.4%

16%

New entrants from the Traveller community

Current number of Traveller new entrants

Target number of Traveller new entrants

33

150 

Current % of Traveller new entrants
(as a % of all new entrants)

Target % of Traveller new entrants
(as a % of all new entrants)

0.07%

0.32%

   

An inclusive higher education system is a priority for Ireland’s economic, social and equality objectives.

The Strategic Student Centred Goals

At the core of the National Access Plan are five Student-Centred Goals:

1. Inclusivity

2. Flexibility

3. Clarity

4. Coherence

5. Sustainability

Underpinning these five goals is an additional sixth goal that is also core to the Plan:

6. Evidence-Driven Approach

The mid-term review stage in 2025 will assess progress against the goals, objectives and targets and allow us consider how these may need to be refined or developed, particularly in view of new government strategies or initiatives and improved data.

In addition to the Student Grant Scheme. There are three main funding streams which support the implementation of the National Access Plan. These are:

  • The Programme for Access to Higher Education;(PATH)
  • The Student Assistance Fund; and
  • The Fund for Students with Disabilities

PATH – Programme for Access to Higher Education Funding   

PATH is a strategic funding programme, established in 2016, for the delivery of equity of access objectives. It supports the implementation of National Access Plan objectives by providing funding to higher education institutions (HEIs) to deliver innovative measures to improve participation and retention of specific target groups in higher education.

PATH currently consists of five strands:

  • PATH 1 – supporting access to initial teacher education.
  • PATH 2 – 1916 Bursary Fund for the most socio-economically disadvantaged students
  • PATH 3 – supporting institutional capacity in developing regional and community partnership strategies for increasing access to higher education.
  • PATH 4 – two-phase programme supporting inclusive, universally designed higher education environments and course provision for students with intellectual disabilities.
  • PATH 5 – funding to support Traveller and Roma students in higher education.

PATH 4- Supporting inclusive universally designed higher education environments for all 

In June 2022 the Department of Further & Higher Education Research Innovation and Science announced a fourth strand of PATH which will be supported by ring fenced funding of €12m over a four-year period starting in 2022 and will be implemented on a phased basis as follows:

  • Phase 1 (2022) – Universal Design Fund – Supporting inclusive universally designed higher education environments for all (once-off fund based on allocation/approved project plan basis to PATH-funded HEIs)
  • Phase 2 – Call for Proposal to enhance course provision for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (competitive call for proposals for €9m over a three-year period)

Phase 1 will support the embedding of Universal Design (UD) approaches and inclusive practices in HEIs which will benefit all students and in particular autistic students and enable the building of capacity in HEIs for greater participation by students with intellectual disabilities in higher education.

Phase 1 allocation for each HEI is based on a base allocation for each institution combined with the numbers of students and numbers of students with a disability attending each institution.

Phase 2 will involve a three-year pathfinding pilot to support an enhancement of course provision for students with intellectual disabilities and to inform future policy considerations for students with intellectual disabilities.

PATH 4 complements existing funding streams, and supports the following objectives which are aligned to the new National Access Plan:

  • To develop the higher education sector’s capacity for inclusive teaching, learning and assessment to enable greater opportunities for participation in higher education by all students including students with intellectual disabilities and autistic students.
  • To support the implementation of relevant objectives and actions under the inclusivity goal of the new NAP.
  • To enable the creation of an inclusive environment in higher education which can be accessed by all and which supports increased engagement, progression and success for all students, benefiting all priority groups in the NAP, (including students with intellectual disabilities and autistic students).
  • To understand how engagement in higher education can support real outcomes, including employment, for students with intellectual disabilities.
  • To support a more diverse student body in higher education that includes students with intellectual disabilities.
  • To advance a holistic student-centred partnership approach within the tertiary education sector which will enable students with intellectual disabilities reach their potential.
  • To support an evidenced-based whole-of-tertiary, whole-of-education and whole-of-Government approach, which will inform future policy on successful transitions to and within higher education for students with intellectual disabilities.

PATH 4 will be a key driver in delivering the following objectives, under the Inclusivity goal in the new National Access Plan:

  • To embed a whole-of-institution approach to student success and universal design
  • To improve opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities to engage in higher education.

PATH 4 – Phase 2 Stakeholder Consultation 

DFHERIS have sought expertise from the National Disability Authority (NDA) in the context of Path 4.

Structured engagement with the stakeholders and learners themselves were facilitated to ensure the call for proposal document and process would meet their specific needs and expectations.

Three in person workshops hosted by the HEA took place on week beginning 17th April 2023 to inform the PATH 4 Phase 2 Call for Proposals which will involve a three-year pathfinding pilot to support an enhancement of course provision for students with intellectual disabilities and to inform future policy considerations for students with intellectual disabilities.

This will draw on the experiences of students and graduates with intellectual disabilities who engaged in higher education.

Workshops took place in:

  • Dublin hosted by DCU – Monday, 17th April
  • Limerick hosted by TUS & MIC at TUS Moylish campus – Thursday 20th April
  • Cork hosted by UCC – Friday 21st April

Minister Harris attended the first consultation event in Dublin on April 17th where he met with students who told him about their experiences to date and goals and aspirations for the future.

Online sessions with parents and people with intellectual disabilities who did not previously engage on higher education provision also took place in recent weeks.

HEIs covered by PATH 4 (see Appendix 1) are invited to submit proposals under PATH 4 Phase 2 for additional provision for students with intellectual disabilities.

It is acknowledged that HEIs are at different stages on the development of provision for students with intellectual disabilities. HEIs seeking to develop new provision as well as those already offering courses for students with intellectual disabilities are invited to submit proposals for additional provision. 

Appendix 1 – List of HEIs covered by PATH 4 

  • Atlantic Technological University (ATU)
  • Dublin City University (DCU)
  • Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT)
  • Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dún Laoghaire (IADT)
  • Marino Institute of Education (MIE)
  • Mary Immaculate College (MIC)
  • Maynooth University (MU)
  • Munster Technological University (MTU)
  • National College of Art and Design (NCAD)
  • RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences (RCSI)
  • South East Technological University (SETU)
  • St. Angela’s College, Sligo
  • Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin)
  • Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest (TUS)
  • Trinity College Dublin (TCD)
  • University College Cork (UCC)
  • University College Dublin (UCD)
  • University of Galway
  • University of Limerick (UL)
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