1 Mar 2023

Supporting Third-Level Access and Engagement at the AONTAS STAR Awards

AONTAS STAR Awards 2023 hashtag STAR Awards 2023

The STAR Awards recognise the very best in adult learning in Ireland. We celebrate and acknowledge the incredible adult learning initiatives going on across the country, in support of learners, as part of the AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival.

This year, there are 26 fantastic shortlisted initiatives. We’ll announce the winners at a special ceremony in Dublin on Friday 10th March – an exciting event to finish our 2023 Adult Learners’ Festival!

The shortlist is divided into five categories of adult learning initiatives that support people with:

The STAR Awards is judged by an independent panel of educators, policymakers, adult learners, and other adult learning experts. Let’s take a closer look at the shortlisted initiatives for the category of Third-Level Access and Engagement.

This category is open to adult learning initiatives that help people with access into university or promote partnerships between higher education and local communities.

Let’s take a look at the nominees:

Back to Education Initiative, Tramore Road, Cork

For over 15 years this BTEI has provided part-time further education courses, primarily aimed at people who have not completed the Leaving Certificate, long-term unemployed, and those looking to return to education. Many learners have experienced difficult life circumstances and returning to education can be very daunting. The BTEI provides a safe and enjoyable learning environment. Many learners have moved on to full-time Level 5 courses in the college, and from there to third-level degree programmes. In the last two years the BTEI has provided two new Level 4 courses in General Learning and Science Skills. There are currently ten students enrolled on each course.


Bunclody Traveller Women’s Group, in collaboration with SETU Waterford and WWETB

This Traveller-led research and restoration project is based on the Ballinacoola Holy Well. The Holywell Project is the first project of this nature in the area, where Traveller women have the opportunity to design and carry out a restoration of a run-down Holy Well. It brings the women together to work on a project that’s important to them and their community. Participants are involved in project decision-making, while also learning the importance of working as a group,  participating and contributing to the wider community, and incorporating literacy skills development. About 30 women take part in the project with the work being facilitated by two Traveller women who are WWETB Community Education Tutors.


Community Education Mentor Programme ATU/Cranmore Regeneration Project

Based on both research evidence and experience, the Community Education Mentor programme supplements one-to-one mentoring with building community partnerships and leveraging community supports. The premise is that creating a learning community alongside a needs-led one-to-one support for learners ensures a supportive home and community environment for those who make the transition into third level. More adult learners have engaged with the programme than young people and this is seen as key to not only supporting the learning opportunities for adult learners, but promoting a culture of learning in the community.


Whidden Workshops: It’s Kushti to Rokker

This programme is for prospective learners from the Traveller and Roma communities. Workshops bring together current and alumni students with university access staff to provide guidance on thinking about, going to, and getting through college. Crucially, prospective learners receive insights directly from their peers. In 2021, the Travellers in HE Dormant Account Fund contributed to an expansion of the workshops, enabling the student panel to lead out on workshops, while receiving on-going support and mentorship. The origin of the project was the Pavee Point and National Traveller Women’s Forum report, The Implications of Covid-19 for Traveller and Roma Transfer to and Progression within Higher Education (2020), which spurred several HEIs to come together and address the detrimental impact of the pandemic. The College Connect MEND Cluster worked with Traveller and community organisations to develop the programme. And in case you wondered, the name is Cant and Romani for ‘The Chatting Workshops – It’s Good to Talk’!


Because the STAR Awards ceremony is focussed on the nominees, particularly the learners, it is an invite-only event. But we'll be sharing the ceremony as it happens on our social media, and spotlighting the winners. 

Find us on or on TwitterFacebookInstagram and LinkedIN for the latest updates.




About the Festival

The Adult Learners’ Festival, happening this year from 6th to 10th March, is a nationwide celebration of adult learning. It offers organisations and groups the chance to promote the value and benefits of lifelong learning for communities, families and workplaces. It is a chance for groups to reinforce existing partnerships in the community, and to establish new ones. This year’s theme is Create Your World – because life is not about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself. Visit this page for more details about the Festival

For more information, contact Charis Hughes, Head of Communications at