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Posted 08 December 2009

Disadvantaged students on access schemes perform better, says report

Disadvantaged students who enter third-level on special support schemes are more likely to complete their university degree than similarly disadvantaged students studying outside of the scheme, according to a new report.

The report which evaluates the impact of the UCD New ERA Initiative, aimed at widening participation at University College Dublin, also shows that participation in this type of access and support scheme also increases the chances of disadvantaged students scoring higher grades.

“A New ERA student is between 10% and 15% more likely to graduate than a similarly disadvantaged student who was unable to participate in the scheme,” says Dr Kevin Denny from the UCD School of Economics and the UCD Geary Institute, one of the authors of the report.

More than 500 students have graduated from University College Dublin through the New ERA Initiative since it was first established in 1997, and it currently supports 400 students.

There are 36 schools linked to the initiative including: St John's College De La Salle, Ballyfermot; Collinstown Park Community College, Clondalkin; and Jobstown Community College, Tallaght.

“Our findings suggest that the new national Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) scheme, which allows students attending non-DEIS schools to participate in access schemes at universities, will lead to more disadvantaged students scoring higher grades and completing their studies at third level,” says Denny.

According to the report published on 03 December 2009, equality issues may help drive the efforts to encourage disadvantaged students to attend third level, but wider economic considerations are just as important.

“For our society to prosper, it is essential that the skills and talents of disadvantaged young people are not wasted, just as a firm needs to ensure that its resources are used to the fullest extent,” explains Denny.

A simple lack of money and an absence of role models are among the traditional barriers to access to third level education in Ireland. However, the single most influential factor in the progression to third level is the educational attainment of one’s father.

“The findings of this report clearly show that if we can encourage disadvantaged students to attend third level, and provide them with the right supports, they will succeed,” says Denny. “If we curtail these initiatives due to the current financial climate, we will lose out on the future economic benefits.”

Education is one of the principle influences on life outcomes. It is an important determinant of a person’s income, where they live, and how they participate in society. It can also affect how people bring up their children and how they manage their own health.

This report was funded under the Higher Education Authority's Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF).


UCD New ERA Widening Participation Initiative

New ERA, the access program at University College Dublin, was established in 1997. It is aimed at improving access to higher education for people from disadvantaged communities.

It provides a host of financial, social and academic services to disadvantaged students both at second level and at university. It engages with primary and secondary schools in disadvantaged communities providing information on higher education and encouraging students to apply.

Disadvantaged students who enter university through the program get additional academic and financial support. Some students are able to enter University College Dublin with a lower Leaving Certificate points than required through the CAO.

Evaluating the Impact of the New ERA Widening Participation Initiative (a 65 page report) is a qualitative evaluation of the effectiveness of New ERA. It examined the academic performance of New ERA students at University College Dublin, specifically the impact of the initiative on first year drop out rates and exam performance. It also quantified the numbers of students from schools linked to the programme that progressed to UCD.


HEAR (Higher Education Access Route)

In 2001, seven higher education institutes: University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin City University, NUI Maynooth, NUI Cork, University of Limerick, and the Dublin Institute of Technology collaborated to create the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) scheme.

The scheme allows school leavers from linked schools to apply for reduced point entry to any participating Higher Education Institute and receive post-entry supports.

The scheme was initially supported through the HEA’s Targeted Initiative Scheme Innovation Fund. More recently the HEAR scheme has expanded into a national scheme partly in response to the White Paper: ‘Charting Our Education Future’ which suggested that designated disadvantaged schools should become linked to higher level institutions.


(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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