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Posted 10 September 2009

Access scheme for disadvantaged pupils extends to all schools

A special third-level admissions scheme targeted at school leavers from disadvantaged backgrounds has been extended to include all 730 secondary schools in Ireland.

Until now, the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) scheme was primarily reserved for students from DEIS schools. This move recognises that educational disadvantage can affect all communities and is not confined to clearly identifiable areas or regions.

Under HEAR, each of the seven universities, DIT and the seven colleges of education allocates a quota of admission places on a reduced points basis for students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.

In 2000, the first year of the scheme, 175 students were admitted to college through HEAR. Last year, over 680 students availed of the scheme. Students who secure a place on the scheme are offered a range of academic and personal supports while at college.

“HEAR is an affirmative action programme that will play its part in reaching targets set out by the government in the national plan for equality of access to Higher education,” says Fiona Sweeney, Co-ordinator of New ERA (the equal right to access programme) at University College Dublin. “Since 2000, over 500 students have completed their studies at UCD as part of the HEAR scheme.”

Widening participation is a priority for higher education institutions. Recruiting students from all walks of life who have the ability to succeed at third level will help to ensure that colleges remain diverse and vibrant places in which to study, while also becoming more representative of the society which they serve.

“In the present climate of rising unemployment Higher Education has a role to play in ensuring that society continues to focus on those who are more marginalized. The Higher Education Access Route is an important part of this focus,” says Maureen Dunne, a spokesperson for the Higher Education Access Route.

There is an ongoing commitment in Ireland to tackle social exclusion through education. In June 2008 the HEA National Access Office launched the National Action Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2008-2013, setting out ambitious targets and equity of access measures for the next 5 years. One of those targets is an entry rate of at least 54% for all socio-economic groups by 2020. The extension of HEAR to all schools is one means by which this target can be achieved. The HEAR expansion has been supported by both the HEA and the Department of Education through the Strategic Innovation Fund.


The Higher Education Access Route was extended from 305 DEIS & linked schools in 2008 to 420 schools in 2009 (schools in BMW region added) to all 730 secondary schools in 2010.

On average 5% of first-year places are allocated to HEAR students across all participating colleges.

The expansion of the Higher Education Access Route has been managed by the Irish Universities Association (IUA) on behalf of participating colleges as part of a Department of Education and Science Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) project.

Full details on the scheme can be viewed at

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Access scheme for disadvantaged pupils extends to all schools