I thank Deputy Moynihan very much for raising this issue, which I know is one in which he has a particular interest. Development of the new strategic action plan for equity, participation and success in higher education, which I call the national access and inclusion plan, is at its very final stage. The plan is being developed collaboratively between my Department and the Higher Education Authority. The plan has involved significant consultation with interested stakeholders, as is right and proper, including the institutions but also with students, individuals and representative groups of students with disabilities and students from a range of under-represented groups. I am pleased to say there was a very strong response to the consultation process, and in addition to workshops and engagements, we have also received a total of 122 submissions from a wide range of stakeholder groups.
The approach of this plan will be rooted strongly in a partnership approach involving the role of the Government, institutions and communities. It will focus on improving the learning experience and success of learners and will seek to enhance support for people who are under-represented in the learner population in higher education.
Among the key themes in the new plan will be the continued targeting of progress with specific groups with policy measures, funding and institutional initiatives aligned to support these groups. I am particularly delighted to say that for the first time this will address people with intellectual disabilities who have been, quite frankly, overlooked in previous plans. I am quite excited about this and it is an important move.
It will also be a move away from just measuring access, which is important. It is quite easy to measure access, that is, how many students have got into the college. This, however, will follow their pathway through college, their successful completion and what happens post college in employment terms
There will be a stronger focus on pathways between further education and training and higher education to try to create that more unified and connected third level system. There will also be an evidence-based approach to policy, with a strong focus on data.
I intend to bring the final plan to Government in advance of publication in March. We have a budget of €5 million for 2022 to put a number of initiatives in place to try to advance this plan.