Looking forward to the continued expansion of higher education in ireland the policy context
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Looking Forward… … to the continued expansion of higher education in Ireland: The policy context 5 th November 2007 Muiris O’Connor National Access Office Higher Education Authority The story of Irish education… … in pictures Remarkable improvement over time

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Looking forward to the continued expansion of higher education in ireland the policy context l.jpg

Looking Forward……to the continued expansion of higher education in Ireland:The policy context

5th November 2007

Muiris O’Connor

National Access Office

Higher Education Authority

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Higher education

Sé Sí -Table 7.3

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  • Remarkable improvements in the educational profile of the Irish population over recent decades

  • Greatly enhanced opportunities for high educational attainment

  • BUT…

  • Substantial sections of the population with low levels of qualifications and skills

  • School completion remains a serious challenge (81-82% since 1994)

  • Limited success in lifelong learning

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Widening access to higher education is now a key national objective

  • At present, 50-55% of 17-18 year olds enter higher education

  • The National Skills Strategy has set a target of 72% by 2020

  • Achieving further growth in higher education will require continuing successes in relation to widening access

  • Widening access is now central to our economic competitiveness

  • This is a very concrete illustration of the interdependence of our national social and economic objectives (a la The Developmental Welfare State, NESC)

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Unprecedented challenges objective

  • It is important for us all to understand that what we are attempting in the next phase of the evolution of higher education is unprecedented

  • It reflects an historical evolution towards a fuller understanding of the concept of citizenship in the context of the ‘knowledge society’

  • The unprecedented nature of the challenge means that there is only so much that we can learn from the past

  • New and innovative approaches will be needed to address the learning needs of an increasingly diverse student body

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“Non-traditional” students objective

  • Our terminology is problematic and out-of-step with our shared aspirations

  • How typical of the real world were our “traditional” students?

  • How “distinct” and “unique” are the needs and difficulties experienced by our “non-traditional” students?

  • At current levels of 50-55%, we have reached the half-way mark in terms of entry rates to higher education

  • Our ambitions in relation to the continuing expansion of higher education – rely on our success in reaching out to and engaging ‘the other half’ of the young population…

  • …and reaching out to adults who have not previously benefitted from higher education

  • Our campuses are beginning to resemble the ‘real’ world

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Underrepresented groups include.. objective

  • Young people from the lower socio-economic groups

  • Students with disabilities

  • Mature students

  • Travellers

Emerging issues include…

  • Ethnicity

  • Gender (?)

  • The lower middle-classes

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Institution-wide approaches will be vital objective

  • Too many under-represented groups to justify an over-emphasis on specialised approaches (which address “distinct” needs)

  • We need to deepen and broaden our focus from the specific needs of particular under-represented groups to the increasingly diverse needs of a growing student population

  • The key priority will be to support and encourage a greater emphasis on institution-wide approaches to the promotion of widening participation in higher education.

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Embedding Access objective

  • This is fundamentally about “effecting the institutional change that creates cultural shifts [and] not just funding stand alone, isolated projects” (Educational Disadvantage Committee, Final Report, p.5)

  • Mainstreaming the access agenda effectively means that “good practice for access becomes good practice for all learners throughout the institution” (HEA Evaluation of Access 2006, p.20)

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Scope for greater integration of student supports within institutions

  • Important recommendations in the report about making “stronger service links on campus” and creating “networks with community-based services”

  • From now on, institution-wide access strategies will be incorporated into strategic planning at the institutional level

  • Strategic approaches will be facilitate by the inclusion of access funding as part of the core funding allocations to institutions, and will continue to be supported through the Strategic Innovation Funds

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Management of information institutions

  • We have serious data issues, which undermine our ability to co-ordinate services

  • It also undermines our capacity to learn from what works

  • The improvements to data collection that are underway are not an end in themselves but a means to facilitate a quantum leap in the quality of our self-evaluation

  • We need to move from improvised ad-hoc surveys to systematic improvements of our administrative data

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The R&D of access institutions

  • In our frequently myopic vision of the concept of the “knowledge society”, many interpret research and innovation as activities that are exclusive to scientific and technical disciplines

  • However, the pursuit of excellence is not discipline-specific and a greater emphasis on research and innovation will be required across the board

  • Given the need for innovation and new ways of approaching the challenge of widening participation, research will be vital for the development of effective strategies

  • Learning our way forwards