Disabled and disadvantaged students offered 1,650 college places

STUDENTS with disabilities and from disadvantaged backgrounds have been offered more than 1,650 places in colleges under an expanded scheme to widen third-level access.

Around 10,500 applicants for college entry through the Central Applications Office (CAO) this year also registered to be considered through the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) and Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) schemes, up significantly on last year when they were opened up for the first time.

In 2009, more than 3,000 people applied for college under the HEAR scheme and almost 700 accepted places.

The number of places offered this year is 61% more than in 2009 and many of the students involved had Leaving Certificate grades worth fewer CAO points than the general cut-off in last week’s first round of offers. The points reduction is allowed in recognition of the obstacles that students from poorer homes or with disabilities can have in performing well in their exams, although in most cases they may have had more points than other entrants anyway.

The schemes are the latest initiative by third-level colleges to reach targets set by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) access office to achieve entry rates of 54% of school leavers among students from all socio-economic groups.

A further target from the HEA seeks to double the number of students with sensory, physical and multiple disabilities by 2013.

A recent study on access programmes at Trinity College Dublin shows the quality of degrees awarded to graduates from these categories are on a par with other recipients, but higher education chiefs still aim to improve their participation rates.

“The current economic climate reinforces the importance of tackling exclusion as disadvantaged groups are even less likely to get jobs in a tight labour market, and this problem is magnified greatly for people with lower educational attainment,” said Irish Universities Association access manager Maureen Dunne.

Meanwhile, just a few thousands applicants are likely to be made an offer for the first time when the second round of CAO offers is made tomorrow morning.

Further courses are available, many free of charge, to unemployed and low-skilled people through the latest €12 million phase of the Department of Education’s Labour Market Activation Fund. They have more than 5,400 places on programmes up to degree level.

More details are available on the website of the national learners’ database at www.qualifax.ie.

An initiative of the institutes of technology to help people with jobs looking for suitable part-time and other courses allows them to research, compare and register online for courses which can fit in with their lifestyles.

Many of the courses listed on www.BlueBrick.ie begin in the coming weeks and range from engineering to fashion design, some of them delivered online.

* The round 2 cut-off points for entry to all CAO courses will be published in tomorrow’s Irish Examiner.

School holidays

MISSING them already? Want to know when you’ll have the kids home for another full week?

Maybe you’re thinking of a family trip that wasn’t possible during the summer? These are the holiday schedules which all schools must follow under the standardised school year agreed between the Department of Education, teacher unions and school management bodies. The beginning and end of summer holidays are for each school to decide.

October mid-term break: All schools will close from October 25 to 29 (Monday to Friday), inclusive.

Christmas: All schools will close on Thursday, December 23, and re-open on Monday, January 10.

Spring mid-term break: Second level schools will close on February 21 to 25 (Monday to Friday), inclusive. Primary schools will close on February 21 & 22, or on February 24 & 25, but can use three discretionary days to extend this to a five-day break from February 21 to 25, inclusive.

Easter: All schools will end the term on Friday, April 15 and re-open on Tuesday, May 3.

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