Launch of the Widening Participation Annual Report
Launch of UCD Widening Participation Annual Report
Virtual, 1 July 2020
Good afternoon one and all and welcome to this launch of the UCD Widening Participation Annual Report, which captures our commitment, innovation and progress in diversifying the student body.
I am delighted that so many of you could take part in this virtual event; a very warm welcome to UCD colleagues and to friends from across higher education.
As we celebrate the work of the University Widening Participation Committee, we are proud to proclaim that UCD is a University for All. Once considered the preserve of the elite, UCD now proudly boasts that 32% of our undergraduate students come from communities where access to education is not a given, not always expected, or historically not always possible. Put differently, almost one third of our undergraduate students are now drawn from communities experiencing low progression to higher education, including those from low-income households, mature students, those in further education, students with disabilities, part-time, and sanctuary students.
This sea change did not happen by accident, but rather through a planned and deliberate strategy to become a diverse and inclusive university, or as UCD describes it, a University for All. Our access philosophy is based on the concept that ‘a student is a student’. At the heart of this deceptively simple idea is an appreciation of the breadth of talent and experience among our students and their contribution to the UCD Community. We believe that in a diverse and inclusive university, all students feel welcome; their experience, perspective and opinions are respected and valued - in short, they belong. Indeed, we believe, that to achieve excellence, a university must be diverse and inclusive.
Our success in diversifying the student profile is in my view, directly attributable to our decision to adopt this ‘whole-institution’ systemic response to mainstreaming inclusion, which weaves access into the fabric of the institution at every level. We understand access to be everyone’s business. It permeates the key pillars of university life, such as teaching and learning, buildings, technology, and student services and supports, ensuring that these are designed around the needs of all students, and not on any perception of a traditional student.
The HEA’s National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education advocates an integrated mainstreamed approach. Our own strategic plan - Rising to the Future - sets out our strategic goal to “provide an inclusive educational experience that defines international best practice and prepares our graduates to thrive in present and future societies”. We are responding strategically to this mainstreaming challenge and are the first Irish university to pioneer such a whole-institution approach.
To offer a context, some of you will be familiar with the UCD motto – Cothrom na Féinne translating as justice and equality, or in common parlance – levelling the playing field. We are therefore passionate advocates for ensuring that students entering higher education reflect the range of human differences, in terms of background, age, disability, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. We actively promote a culture and ethos that reinforces our commitment to inclusivity, scholarship and collaboration. We are persuaded that the sharing of different perspectives, ideas, and outlooks generates new thinking, innovation, and creativity.
As we launch the UCD Widening Participation Annual Report, I would like to thank Professor Grace Mulcahy, Chair of the UCD Widening Participation Committee, together with the committee members, drawn from our Programme Boards, Policy and Support units, and from the student body, for their impressive commitment and enthusiasm to “levelling the playing field”.
I would also like to acknowledge Professor Mark Rogers, Registrar and Deputy President, whose outstanding leadership ensures that UCD continues to demonstrate its capacity for innovation and transformation through placing the educational experience for all students at the centre.
A special note of gratitude to the Access and Lifelong Learning team, led by Dr Anna Kelly, without whose support, we would not have embarked on this journey to become a University for All.
Finally, may I thank you all for your interest and attendance. I trust that you will find Widening Participation Annual Report both an interesting and thought provoking read.