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Minister Harris launches the new National Access Plan to drive equality of access to higher education


Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris TD has today launched the fourth National Access Plan - a Strategic Action Plan for Equity of Access, Participation and Success in Higher Education.

The National Access Plan, which will cover the period from 2022- 2028, is a national priority and a key commitment in the Programme for Government.

An additional €35 million will be provided by the Department to deliver the targets.  

The plan names three specific priority groups:

  • Students who are socio-economically disadvantaged
  • Students who are members of Irish Traveller and Roma communities
  • Students with disabilities including intellectual disabilities.


Under the first cohort, an additional focus will be on

  • Students who have experienced homelessness;
  • Students who are survivors of domestic violence;
  • Students who have experience of the care system;
  • Students who are carers;
  • Students who have experience of the criminal justice system.

For the other two cohorts, the Department will set ambitious targets to increase participation in higher education including a four-fold increase in access for new entrants from the Traveller community.

Speaking today, Minister Harris said: “This new National Access Plan is the most ambitious plan for access to Higher Education. The statistics don’t lie. It is clear those from disadvantaged areas have a lesser chance of accessing higher education than those from more affluent areas.

“There are a number of new groups who we have never put a focus on before including those in the care system and those with intellectually disabilities. Today, that changes.

“We want a truly inclusive third level system where neither your background nor experience has a bearing on your ability to attend or succeed in higher education.

“This plan will measure access but it has, for the first time ever, put a very specific emphasis on participation and successful conclusion of higher education. It sets goals across the whole of institution, education & Government in five key student centred areas including flexibility of learning and sustainability.

“Every year, we will hold ourselves to account on the targets we set.”

The ambitions of the new strategic action plan are that the higher education student body entering, participating in and completing higher education, at all levels and across all programmes reflects the diversity and social mix of Ireland’s population.

Minister Harris added: “This will be supported by significant Government investment too with an additional €35 million ring-fenced for the plan.”

HEA CEO Dr Alan Wall said: “This is an ambitious and challenging new National Access Plan and it is essential that we all work together in the delivery of objectives and targets. 

“Our country can only flourish both socially and economically if we tap into the creativity, skills and talents of our diverse population.  This Plan is about making this happen by removing barriers and providing the required supports.”

The highlights of the National Access Plan, as well as the full plan, can be read here.