Equity of access to higher education is a national priority for my Department and the Government, and as Minister for Education and Skills I welcome the publication of this National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015–2019 for the strong and clear commitment it shows to building positive social change and tackling inequality in our society.
As a country we have everything to gain and nothing to lose by increasing levels of participation in higher education among all Irish citizens. It makes sense socially and it makes sense economically; and at a policy level it has been central to both the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 and to the Department’s System Performance Framework for the Higher Education System. This National Access Plan now offers us the opportunity to energise and renew our commitment to broadening participation in higher education from groups and communities who have been under-represented up to now – in particular, those living with social disadvantage, mature students, people with disabilities and Irish Travellers.
We know that in building for social inclusion, we need to start early and start local. Starting early means that we put the building blocks in place as early as possible in the education lifecycle. Starting local means that we have to find ways of involving communities in creating their own future in education. And we also need to create clear pathways between the different education levels – in the context of this Plan that particularly means pathways between further education and higher education.
This National Access Plan proposes a course of action that will see the development of local partnership initiatives (involving educational, government and other stakeholders) in target communities where levels of educational participation and attainment remain low. In doing so, the Plan offers us the basis for longer-term gains in equality of opportunity for citizens – both in access to higher education and in sustainable jobs.
The publication of the National Access Plan now is timely as the Expert Group on Future Funding for Higher Education is in the process of developing a framework for the sustainable funding of higher education. I know that the Expert Group wishes to ensure that the funding framework supports the objectives of this National Access Plan, and that it protects, nurtures and promotes equity of access to higher education for all of our citizens.