DUBLIN, Ireland - Three Irish access students who earned places on their preferred course got a chance to meet with the education minister late last week.
Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O'Connor visited UCD to congratulate the students, Laura Kinnear from Blackrock Co. Dublin who will be starting Social Policy and Sociology in September; Kildare man, Shane Black who previously had been in the army is starting Law; and young mum Maria Connor from Clongriffin who is looking forward to joining first year in Law with Social Justice.
"Today's offers are a milestone for many school leavers who can now progress on their chosen paths and look forward to the next stage in their future. However for you three this journey has taken a little longer, " the minister told the trio of mature age students.
"What I am most proud of within the Department of Education and Skills is the significant progress we have made in widening participation in higher education in recent years, in line with the National Action Plan. Real strides are being made in supporting students from groups who have been under-represented in the student body and I am determined that we will continue to increase participation in higher education by groups which have been underrepresented in the past. You three are real beacons for all young people who have a desire to return to education. You have got your desired courses in your chosen institution and now you need to go on, work hard and great qualifications," she said.
The three new students were joined by other access students who wanted to share and advise the freshers about life on the UCD campus. Also congratulating them on their offers were Dr Anna Kelly, Director, UCD Access and Lifelong Learning and also Fiona Sweeney, Head of Outreach, Engagement & Transition.
"For those who haven't received an offer that suits them: there is a myriad of options available to you. The days of one path to a job or career are long over, now there is a huge range of opportunity and many, many ways to get to where you want to be," the minister said.
"And it's alright if you don't yet know where that is. I have met many school leavers who are not sure of their next step. Many of the jobs that people in the workforce are now doing didn't even exist when they left school! If you start with something you are interested in and can pursue something in that area, training and education will always be something to build on."
"I would urge anyone who isn't certain of their next step to take a good look at the many opportunities available in new apprenticeships and in further education as well as in the wider higher education sector. There are so many courses and apprenticeships available, with options to earn while you are learning," O'Connor said.
"The helplines, your guidance counsellor from school and your local further education college are all there to support you. If you aren't sure of your next step, reach out for help to find something that will interest and challenge you."
The offers today form part of a wide range of third level education choices available to students. Already this year offers have been made through the CAO to over 9,700 students who are accessing courses on the basis of alternate entry routes including graduate and mature entry and holders of QQI FET/FETAC awards (entry to certain courses where specific quotas applied).
The education minister highlighted two forms of further education and training outside the CAO system.
"We now have an exciting new apprenticeship model in occupations such as International Finance, ICT and Insurance at degree and postgraduate level, thanks to the work of the Apprenticeship Council, industry and our education providers. There is great scope for take up in this area and school leavers should look carefully at this option – apprentices earn while they learn and build valuable work-ready skills for their chosen occupation while gaining a qualification on the National Framework of Qualificationsat Levels 5 to 9," she said.
"There is a huge range of Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses on offer, and these can be very convenient and local. They offer a combination of general studies, vocational studies and work experience opportunities, and take place usually on a full time basis over one academic year. People do a PLC course and get their major award at Level 5 or 6. This can be an end in itself or can be used to progress within further or higher education."
"It is an exciting time to be entering, or re-entering, further and higher education, we are supporting more students to study in more diverse ways than ever before. However, as a parent, I am aware of the particular stresses which parents, guardians and students can feel at this time. The National Parents Council Post Primary hosts a free phone Helpline for anyone who may have questions or queries and I would encourage families to avail of the supports and advice available, both at school and national level," O'Connor said.
The NPCPP Helpline number is 1800 265 165 for advice and information on LC, LCA, LCVP, VTOS, QQI results, Apprenticeships, Traineeships, Internships, Gap Year and CAO queries.