In Dublin today at a briefing meeting held by the National Office for Equity of Access to Higher Education. The aim was to provide some feedback on the emerging findings from their detailed evaluation of Access programmes, providing an opportunity for discussion and consultation before the final report is drafted.
The attendance was quite high with a fair number of people from many institutions and there was plenty of discussion. Some of the issues raised by the evaluation consultant were: (a) that much very good work has been, and is being done; (b) successful programmes need time and effort to become established (and this was echoed in the discussion about the implication of new funding models); (c) some distinct groups in society are particularly problematic, a situation not helped by the complex wider context of social welfare regulations, grant award criteria, immigration status, etc, all of which present barriers to participation in higher education.
From my own perspective, such an evaluation and the consultation process, brings home the value of (and the need for) high quality research activity in all aspects of (higher) education policy and practice in Ireland.
It will be fascinating to read the final report when it is published and there has certainly been a huge amount of effort expended by the contributors in each institution and the consultants in collating and analysing the materials submitted.
It was great to hear so many people looking forward enthusiastically to the forthcoming (8th/9th June) conference in Galway on "The Challenge of Diversity." Hard work ahead for the conference organisers, although I must commend them for their work so far.