Dáil Éireann - Volume 489 - 31 March, 1998
Written Answers. - Third Level Education.
Mr. O'Shea Mr. O'Shea
257. Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will convene a national conference to examine in detail the extremely disappointing results revealed in the recent Partnership 2000 progress report regarding access to third level education by students from disadvantaged backgrounds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7816/98]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin) Micheál Martin
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): Partnership 2000 provides that priority will be given to a strategy to enable non-standard applicants, especially disadvantaged and mature students, to participate in third level education. In this regard, the latest progress report on Partnership 2000 outlines some of the current developments  in the university sector on access initiatives for disadvantaged students.
Following the report of the steering committee on the future development of higher education, the Higher Education Authority provided funding in 1996 and 1997 for initiatives in a number of colleges specifically relating to disadvantaged students. These initiatives build on existing programmes and involve links with second level schools and local communities. For this reason it will take some time for the effect of the programmes to be reflected in the actual members going on to higher education.
The programmes will assist some students to meet the points requirement for courses, enabling them to obtain a college place through the standard CAO entry procedure. The other aspect of the programmes is the special entry arrangements through which more flexible entry criteria are applied and various supports put in place for students entering by this method. Support for the university proposals is very firmly based on the intention of meeting these targets and annual progress reports will be submitted to the Higher Education Authority on each of the programmes funded.
While I accept that the figures for entrants from disadvantaged backgrounds to the university sector in the progress report are low, I do not consider them to be disappointing in light of my earlier comments and, accordingly, I do not propose to convene a national conference as suggested by the Deputy.
These initiatives in the university sector are one element of the wide range of measures in place to improve participation at third level. They include the development of early start centres, the allocation of additional resources to schools in disadvantaged areas, the breaking the cycle pilot programme, the home school community liaison scheme and the development of second chance education and training options through Youthreach and VTOS.
Specially at third level, I introduced the new national certificate in technology course, which was developed by a joint education/industry task force and targeted in particular at non-standard applicants, and which commenced in January 1998 in nine institutes of technology. I have also announced that the Government has given approval for the creation of a new third-level institution in Blanchardstown to serve the west of Dublin. Membership of the board, which will be announced shortly, will be charged with completing strategic planning for the institution and making arrangements for the commencement of courses. The new institution, to be called the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown, will meet two very important needs, namely; to increase participation in third-level education in west Dublin, an area with one of the lowest participation rates in the country and to help meet the skills requirements of expanding industries.
The Deputy will appreciate the multi-faceted nature of the initiatives under way which are  indicative of my commitment to tackle educational disadvantage. I recently addressed a conference organised by USI on the matter. In relation to the Deputy's request I will give further consideration to the convening of a conference on the subject.
Dáil Éireann 489 Written Answers. Third Level Education.