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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 25 Mar 1998

Vol. 489 No. 1

Written Answers. - Mature Students.

Olivia Mitchell


27 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science the targets, if any, he has set for the participation of mature students in higher education; and the measures, if any, he proposes to introduce to increase participation. [7504/98]

The steering committee on the future development of higher education considered the participation levels of mature students in higher education and noted that participation of mature students in higher education was low in Ireland having regard to the international experience, despite the different demographic profiles. The committee recommended that there should be a progressive increase in the numbers of mature students entering full-time higher education from 1,100, 3.7 per cent, in 1994 to 2,200, 6.2 per cent by 2000 and subsequently to increase to 5,600, 16 per cent by 2010. When considering the steering committee's proposals, the Higher Education Authority advocated a faster rate of growth to a level of 7.5 per cent by 2000, rising by 2.5 per cent each year thereafter to a target of 25 per cent.

The report of the steering committee on the future development of higher education, which was published in June 1995, was accepted by the then Government as a benchmark for the future planning of the sector, subject to regular review. The first review of the steering committee's report is being carried out by a study group established under the chairmanship of Dr. Donal de Buitléir. The student group's remit is to advise on the appropriate level of provision of education and training places for school leavers and others. I understand the study group's report will be available in the near future, at which stage I will consider its findings.
A range of measures have been introduced in recent years to facilitate higher participation by mature students. These include: improvements in the student support arrangements to extend them to mature students and to enable such students to be assessed on their own means; the free fees initiative and the provisions allowing tax relief on fees for certain third level courses, which apply to mature students; the special arrangements to enable mature students to train as primary teachers; initiatives aimed at facilitating the return to formal education of women in Cork, Dublin, Tralee, and Galway-Mayo institutes of technology; the new national certificate in technology courses, which was developed by a joint education-industry task force, and targeted in particular at non-standard applicants, commenced in nine institutes of technology in January 1998. Nearly 300 students are attending this course of whom over 100 are mature students. It is hoped to organise further courses in this area in the future.
The proposed new Institute of Technology at Blanchardstown and the Tipperary Rural and Business Development Institute will have a major focus on non-standard applicants and on mature students and continuing education.
Furthermore, the Higher Education Authority provides targeted funding to its institutions for initiatives designed to support the participation of mature students, particularly second chance students. In 1997, the authority provided £601,000 for projects in this area.
The Higher Education Authority, in co-operation with third level institutions, is also promoting the co-ordinated development of a system of modular course structures and related credit transfer arrangements. Such flexibility in course structures has the potential to facilitate access and enable mature and part-time students to study for qualifications while remaining in full-time employment. Part-time options are often more attractive to mature students and while a current age profile for part-time students is not available, in 1993-94 almost 85 per cent of all part-time third level students were mature students. In 1995-96 there were almost 22,000 part-time students in third level institutions aided by my Department.