Leaving nobody behind

The University of Galway Access Centre which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, provides a pathway to college for people who might never otherwise attend the institution. So far, 3,500 people from a variety of backgrounds have entered university this way, with many going on to post-graduate studies. JUDY MURPHY hears from three students about their different journeys, and also learns how Access is evolving to meet changing social needs.

“It’s about helping people to become the best version of themselves,” says Imelda Byrne, Head of the University of Galway’s Access Centre, which opens doors to higher education for people who might never otherwise enter college.

The Centre celebrated its 25th anniversary earlier this month, with past and present students sharing experiences and outlining how it’s changed their lives.

Since it was established in 1999 to reach individuals and groups who were traditionally underrepresented in university, some 3,500 people who have entered the University of Galway via the Access route.

Among them is city woman Aisling Fallon, the first member of her family to go to university.

From Castlepark, Aisling was reared by her mother after her parents’ divorced when she was very young.

The bright youngster attended three different primary schools, due to family circumstances, before going to secondary school in Taylors Hill. During her Leaving Cert Year, Aisling’s mother who had suffered from ill health, had a stroke.

“And I refused to go to school because I was looking after her. My studies went downhill.”

She passed her Leaving but didn’t get enough for college. However, two of her cousins had entered the University of Galway via the Access programme. One is now lecturing in ATU and doing a PhD while the other is a barrister and engineer.

Her own experience was also transformative.

“I felt encouraged, welcomed and supported,” says Aisling, who had suffered from anxiety since childhood but thought it was normal. “And then I realised it wasn’t.”

Aisling worked to address her anxiety issues while the university’s counselling service was also invaluable to this bright young woman.

The Access course – which lasts an academic year and offers a range of supports – gave her the foundation she needed to go on and do an Arts degree, graduating in 2010.

As she worked to address issues around anxiety, Aisling discovered exercise and learned that “movement really helped me”.

She became an Irish Jujitsu champion, reaching the European finals and taking up MMA to assist with her Jujitsu training.

“I’d never have been able to walk into an MMA gym except for here,” she says of the confidence it gave her.

This led her to do a Masters in Health, in association with the University’s School of Medicine, on the role of movement and exercise in supporting people’s mental health.

Pictured: The Head of the Access Programme Imelda Byrne with students Aisling Fallon, Rinalds Dzenitis and Rola Olusola. PHOTO: BRIAN HARDING.


For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app

The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

More like this:

Sign Up To get Weekly Sports UPDATES

Go Up