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University for All Symposium 2023

The University for All Symposium took place on Wednesday 3 May 2023 in UCD’s O’Brien Centre for Science. To mark the 10 year anniversary of the UCD Widening Participation Committee, this year's Symposium examined how the access and inclusion landscape has evolved over the last decade and explored what the future of inclusive education might look like. It was also an opportunity to celebrate UCD’s successes in this area to date. Acting Registrar and Deputy President, Professor Barbara Dooley opened the proceedings. She reminded us that the student body of UCD had changed and diversified and would continue to do so. In ensuring that all students’ needs are met, it was vital that access and inclusion be mainstreamed and baked in, not bolted on, to what the University does. 

Colin Scott, Bairbre Fleming, Amy Hassett, John Brannigan, Barbara Dooley, Jim Breslin and Anna Kelly standing beside eachother

Dr Anna Kelly, Director of UCD Access & Lifelong Learning introduced a series of keynote presentations. Firstly, Professor Tom Collins gave an historical overview of inclusive education, charting the origins of universal and university education in Ireland both before and after independence. The paradigm shift has occurred in the last two decades with universities no longer being viewed as elitist institutions and being accessed by wider groups traditionally distanced from education. However, more work needs to be done to ensure these groups have equitable access to opportunity. Amy Hassett, disability advocate and co-chairperson of Disabled Women Ireland (DWI) spoke to the topic of students as change makers. She reminded us of the importance of including student voice, particularly access students, in university decision making processes. In order to empower students, university leaders would be required to cede some power and to trust in students knowing what they want and need. In outlining what inclusive education would look like in the next 10 years, Jim Breslin, Secretary General of the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, provided an overview of the HEA’s National Access Plan as well as the Department’s ambitions for equal access to education and an equitable student experience for all.

These keynote presentations provided context for the turn & talk discussion hosted by Professor John Brannigan, Chair of the UCD Widening Participation Committee. Symposium attendees were asked to reflect on and discuss three big questions: What are the key lessons from the past? What are the priorities for the next decade? What do we want to celebrate in 2032? Responses ranged from the reduction of reliance on the points system and broadening pathways to university to valuing the student voice both in teaching and policy making and embedding access and inclusion in the curriculum so that students with access backgrounds do not experience exclusion amongst peers. Professor Brannigan launched the Symposium’s publication: "A Decade of Action shaping a University for All - Celebrating Ten Years of UCD Widening Participation". This publication chronicles how the Committee steered this institutional change and transformation over the last ten years, showcasing actions and approaches to embedding and mainstreaming student access, diversity, and inclusion featuring a range of institution wide examples of inclusive practice.

Finally the event concluded with a performance from students of the UCD Creative Futures Academy introduced by Professor PJ Mathews, UCD CFA Director. Faith Olasogba gave a powerful poetry reading exploring racism and discrimination and her experience of being black in modern Ireland. Jill Nellis presented a drama performance she had written and directed with fellow students. We would sincerely like to thank the CFA for partnering with University for All.

We would like to thank all those who attended the Symposium, our speakers, students and supporters. Till next year!

University for All

University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.
E: UniversityforAll@ucd.ie