Third-level institutions to get €3m to make campuses more inclusive

Minister Anne Rabbitte has called on senior ministers to provide funding outside the health sector for people with disabilities.
Third-level institutions to get €3m to make campuses more inclusive

By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA

Third-level institutions are to get €3 million this year to help make campuses and practices more inclusive, the Government has announced.

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris revealed it as one of two initiatives to support students with autism and those with an intellectual disability in accessing third-level education.

The first initiative will distribute one-off funding worth €3 million among publicly funded colleges and universities from September to implement inclusive designs on their campuses and create opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities.

 

Mr Harris said this would “lay the foundation” for more inclusive university campuses.

“It might be staff training, it might be student awareness campaigns, it might be using technology to teach in a different way, it might be a sensory space,” the minister said at the launch event at Trinity College Dublin on Thursday.

“So tools that will really make the college experience more inclusive and significantly increase the chances of autistic students thriving in third level.”

The second initiative is worth a further €3 million per year for the next three years.

The Department of Further and Higher Education is inviting proposals from colleges and universities on how they can support and educate students with intellectual disabilities, and the funding will be distributed accordingly.

“I think success looks like us being utterly inundated with applications from universities right across the country saying, ‘I can do something to help here’,” Mr Harris said, adding that if that does happen, more funding could be sought.

 

Mr Harris said that if a college or university was not putting forward an idea, he would consider it “terribly unambitious”.

“This is a challenge to the sector and a sector that is up to the challenge.”

Mr Harris said this was an initial step, and that a National Access Plan would be announced at the end of the month, “where for the first time, it will recognise people with intellectual disabilities as a priority group” for improving access.

“Today is an initial injection of resources by myself and the Government, it will be followed by more through the National Access Plan.”

Disability minister Anne Rabbitte said the €3 million funding was “transformative”.

“Up to this, all my money is actually in health supports. There’s no funding whatsoever let out to support people with disabilities under other avenues, be it in education, be it in employment.

“What I’m hoping is that other senior ministers will give me the same… and will come in on my disability capacity review or work with us in the autism innovation strategy… and that senior ministers will support me with some funding.

Anne Rabbitte
Anne Rabbitte (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

“I don’t need an awful lot, but we need it to make it real.”

Referring to Mr Harris, Ms Rabbitte said: “I bring the passion element, he’s brought the money here today.”

Dr Anna Kelly, director of access and lifelong learning at University College Dublin, said the funding was a “game changer”.

“This seed funding will enable all students… to be treated equitably, and are offered a learning experience that is universally designed and configured to meet the needs of all.”

She said that those wishing to attend higher education had changed in recent years, and the institutions needed “to plan and to think differently”.

“How do we move from opening doors, from access and inclusion being an add-on, a ‘nice to have’, to an integral, core belief… that is practised and demonstrated by all?

“It’s about flexibility and choice for students – one size does not fit all.”

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