Opportunity knocks

Celebrating 20 years of the Access Programme at NUI Galway, John Cunningham, past Access Programme pupil, Dr Olga O'Mahony, past pupil and Access Programme Coordinator for Mature Students, and Imelda Byrne, Head of Access Programmes. PHOTO: Joe O'shaughnessy.
Celebrating 20 years of the Access Programme at NUI Galway, John Cunningham, past Access Programme pupil, Dr Olga O'Mahony, past pupil and Access Programme Coordinator for Mature Students, and Imelda Byrne, Head of Access Programmes. PHOTO: Joe O'shaughnessy.

Lifestyle – As they celebrate 20 years of Access Programmes at NUI Galway, STEPHEN CORRIGAN meets one of the driving forces behind the programme and some of its beneficiaries as they reflect on two decades of equal opportunity for all.

In the twenty years since the Access Programme was setup at NUI Galway, there have been many changes in education, but the dedication of those behind the programme to equal opportunity remains as unshakable as it was two decades ago.  By the late 1990s, it had become apparent that access to third level for those taking a ‘non-traditional’ route was overly restrictive – and people were being left behind.

A decision was taken by the University’s management team to begin the Access Programme for school leavers and mature students – with Imelda Byrne at the helm, backed by Seamus O’Grady, the Coordinator of Adult Education at the time.

The perception then was that higher education was not for everyone, says Imelda, and so this programme was to help school-leavers – those under 22 – and mature students to make their way into third level by an alternative route.

“There were a lot of mature students, say in their 40s and up, who never got the chance to go to college – we wanted to recognise that challenge in the region and to recognise those people who, purely by chance of birth, never had the opportunity to go to university,” says Imelda, who is the Current Head of Access Programmes at NUIG.

The Access Course is one academic year of full or part-time study, in which participants will develop the skills that will enable them to succeed in third level education – and is free of charge for those selected.

Upon completion, those successful will achieve a Diploma in Foundation Studies and are guaranteed a place on any general course in the NUIG Colleges of Arts, Science, Commerce, Nursing or Engineering, with the option of applying for any other course of their preference.

According to Imelda, while socio-economic circumstances were the main problem 20 years ago, the reasons people have needed it over the years have been varied.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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