5 Jul 2024

Increased funding for students with intellectual disabilities in higher education welcome, but more needs to be done for learners in adult and community education

Image shows Taoiseach Simon Harris, Minister Patrick O'Donovan TD with students standing outside Leinster House, holding a sign that reads PATH Programme for Access in Higher Education

AONTAS welcomes the announcement this week of the expansion of third level courses for students with intellectual disabilities.

Earlier this week An Taoiseach Simon Harris and Patrick O’Donovan TD, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation, and Science, announced additional investment in students with intellectual disabilities, and the roll-out of courses under the PATH 4 (Programme for Access to Higher Education).

The courses will all be available across the country, free of charge, and will begin from January 2025.

Speaking about the announcement, Taoiseach Simon Harris stated:

"I want to create an education system is equal for everyone. This announcement ensures a person with an intellectual disability is afforded the same opportunities as any of their peers.”

Our CEO Dearbháil Lawless responded:

“While we welcome this move, we call for similar funding and support to be made available for students with intellectual disabilities in adult and community education – which is often the first step for many people to access education in their local communities. For many across the country, without adult and community education, they would never have considered progressing to higher education.

We call for the expansion of eligibility for the Fund for Students with Disabilities (FSD) to cover all areas of Further Education and Training (FET). According to Ahead in 2023, this fund needs to be bolstered to ensure it can meet the needs of learners across all programmes."

Learning can’t happen without the proper facilities and infrastructure to make it a realistic option for students. Our research has found evidence that this is a significant barrier to returning to or staying in a course or programme.

Dearbháil stated: "We also call for increased capital funding for Education and Training Boards (ETBs) and independent community education providers to make all buildings and learning spaces fully accessible. We need to see funding, similar to these PATH programmes, for FET and adult and community education. This is essential if we are to have a truly equal education system.”

Read more about our perspective on funding for adult learners with intellectual disabilities.

Find out where the new courses are here. 

Writing by Dr Kate Smyth, Strategic Comms Officer.