The Access route

Above: Trinity College entrance.

The deadline for normal CAO applications passed on February 1st and no doubt some of our readers are now wishing that they had submitted an application to go to college this year.

Maybe you are a school-leaver and you didn’t do so because you don’t think you will get the Leaving Cert points you need to do the course of your choice, or you might be over 23 and didn’t go to college when you left school because life got in the way and now you don’t have the confidence to apply.

If this is you, or someone you know, perhaps the Access route is for you. At both European level and nationally, government has long recognised the need to extend the opportunity to participate in higher education to all sectors of society, including under-represented groups who traditionally did not have access to third-level education.

Apart from the important role that education plays in social mobility, the labour market has changed significantly, increasing the demand for skilled and educated workers. As a result, investment in promoting access to higher education among lower socioeconomic and disadvantaged groups has grown steadily over the years as have the numbers of students attending third-level institutions through access programmes.

Access programmes work in two ways. Programmes like HEAR and DARE offer reduced points places to school leavers who have experienced additional educational challenges in second-level education as a result of financial, social or educational disadvantage, or to those who have a physical or visual disability.

As successful participation in university life is not just about gaining entry and must lead to successful completion, all third-level institutions now have support systems in place to provide access students with extra support throughout their college years.

A great way to gain access to the undergraduate course of your choice is to do one of the many foundation courses designed to prepare students for the rigours of university life. These are available to school leavers and mature students. The good news is it’s not too late to apply for one of these courses if you want to start this September.

Foundation courses are run by a number of colleges, including Liberties College, Griffith College, Plunket College and Coláiste Dhúlaigh College of Further Education (CDCFE). Some foundation courses are open to all applicants while others focus on school-leavers and students who are no more than 23 years of age on January 1st in the year of application.

Above: Getting into study mode.

One such programme is Trinity College’s TAP programme. The course was set up in 1999 to offer another way into Trinity for young adults whose social, economic and cultural experiences have prevented them from going to college. Currently, 50 college places are offered to TAP students each year, 25 to participants in Trinity’s on-campus course and 25 to students from the TAP course in Liberties College.

TAP students specialise in one of three areas, sciences, social sciences or arts. The course is full-time and runs from September to May over one year. There are up to 20 hours of lectures and tutorials each week and another 20 hours study time. Students study in small class groups and learn about their area of specialisation. In addition, they take modules in career guidance, study skills and information technology. Students can also avail of career development and mentoring programmes.

Colleges also offer general foundation courses which are open to all students, including lifelong learners. These work much the same way as TAP. Students who do well on the foundation courses get Fetac Level 5 or Level 6 certification and can apply to study as an undergraduate at any college.

Although more students from disadvantaged backgrounds have gained access to higher education in recent years, the higher economic groups continue to dominate the numbers who attend and successfully complete their university courses.

There has never been a better time to change that. Or your life. Most third-level institutions now have policies in place to increase the numbers of access students. You can find out more about how to apply for entry as an access student and the courses and supports on offer on individual college websites.

By Jennifer Reddin