Report Shows Access Programmes Are Breaking Down Barriers to Higher Education for Disadvantaged Groups

Pictured at the launch of the Access Centre report celebrating 20 Years of Access Programmes at NUI Galway were l-r: John Hannon, Head of Student Services, NUI Galway, Imelda Byrne, Head of Access Centre, NUI Galway, Minister of State with responsibility for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. and Pól Ó Dochartaigh, Registrar and Deputy President, NUI Galway. Photo: Aengus McMahon
May 22 2019 Posted: 14:04 IST
  • 3,600 students completed Access programmes at NUI Galway over the past 20 years
  • 62% of Access students were female, compared to 38% male
  • 90% of students who completed an Access programme continued into an undergraduate course of study
  • 77% of students who undertook an undergraduate course completed their studies and received a degree, or are still engaged in their course of study

To commemorate 20 Years of Access education in NUI Galway, a new report launched this week by the Minister of State with responsibility for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D., highlights the impact that Access programmes have on society through the participation and progression of Access students from disadvantaged or underrepresented groups into third-level education over the last twenty years.

The Access Centre at NUI Galway delivers one-year pre-undergraduate programmes both on-campus for school leavers and mature students, and off-campus in outreach centres in Sligo, Ballinasloe and An Cheathrú Rua (Carraroe). Access students secure a diploma in foundation studies which guarantees them a place in further third-level education.

From the data available from this study, over 3,600 students completed an Access programme, from the pilot programme in 1997-98 up to 2017-18. In terms of gender breakdown, 62% of Access students were female, compared to 38% male. Approximately half of past students (52%) were from Galway City, with 34% from other parts of the county, and 14% from other counties in the Border Midlands West (BMW) region and Co. Clare region. Over 90% of school leavers and mature students who completed the Access programme in NUI Galway continued into an undergraduate course of study. 77% of mature and school leavers Access students who undertook an undergraduate level course completed their studies and received a degree, or are still engaged in their course of study. 21% of past Access school leaver and mature students in NUI Galway continued into and completed postgraduate degree programmes, with the majority of these students completing a Master’s degree-level qualification.

Findings from this study highlight the important and long-term impact the Access programmes have had on the third level education system, on close to 4,000 students from Galway City, County and the BMW and Co. Clare regions, and on Irish society in general. Overall, progression rates of School Leavers and Mature students are approximately in line with national averages.

Imelda Byrne, Head of the Access Centre at NUI Galway, commented: “The findings from this study clearly point to the positive and powerful impact of the Access initiative across the past twenty years in offering an alternative pathway for disadvantaged and underrepresented groups. This report provides evidence of the important role of the Access programmes in breaking down barriers to higher education for the most under-represented groups in higher education and the effectiveness of the suite of student-centred academic and personal supports on offer to Access students. It clearly outlines the vitally important impact Access can have into the future for the participants.

“All of us on the Access Programmes team have had the privilege over two decades to meet wonderful individuals and their families who, in spite of very challenging and constraining previous life circumstances and experiences in higher education, successfully participated, graduated and progressed to employment.”

As part of the 20 Years celebrations the Access Centre hosted a series of events to commemorate the occasion that included: Dress for Success is part of a University partnership with the charity through the Office of the Vice President for Equality and Diversity. The event supported six residents from the Direct Provision hostel in Galway, a member of the Travelling community and several women with disabilities, who participated in sessions at NUI Galway where staff provided a stylist on what to wear when going for interviews and one-to-one career sessions; A Photographic and Video Exhibition marking the Access journey over 20 years titled, Access Album of Memories of past Access Alumni. 

The School of Education hosted a day-long event as part of the 20 year celebrations to formally launch the NUI Galway aspect of Access to Post-Primary Teaching (APT) 2, celebrating the work of Access participants, to support the Higher Education and career planning of DEIS pupils in the APT participants’ placement schools. Approximately 150 pupils from the APT participants’ placement schools came to NUI Galway for the event and participating in workshops. 

For more information about the Access Centre, visit:

Those interested in becoming an Access Alumni member can visit, or email or visit the Facebook page at


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