New Research Identifies Factors Affecting Access Students' Progression

At a national and international level, many initiatives are designed to address the barriers facing students from marginalised groups entering Higher Education. However, there is a scarcity of information about the factors that influence their success. Over three years, Dr Annette Forster followed the progress of 184 Access Foundation Programme students at TU Dublin, identifying predictors of success and detailing the targeted interventions required to help students reach their full potential. The research was supervised by Dr Fiona Faulkner, School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, TU Dublin and Dr Mark Prendergast, School of Education, University College Cork and RAISE group.

Minister of State with responsibility for Skills and Further Education, Niall Collins TD welcomed the report:

“TU Dublin’s Access Foundation Programme has been crucial in facilitating many marginalised learners to prepare for higher education in a range of fields. There is still more we can do to help people in progressing to an undergraduate course.
This report identifies barriers to access, and provides valuable recommendations and guidance for the higher education sector in how to overcome those barriers. It is so important that we be better able to assist people in accessing and progressing through higher education, gaining the valuable skills this provides.”

TU Dublin’s Access Foundation Programme has a high success rate, with 70% of students going on to undertake further academic study; however, Access students can have more complex needs, including financial, than traditional students, explains Dr Annette Forster.

“Many students interviewed said that poor finances negatively affected their progression, while those that needed to work during the Access Foundation programme were less likely to progress to higher education. Making the Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) grant available to Access Foundation students could help alleviate financial difficulties students experience and potentially increase progression rates.”

The research also revealed that a student’s living arrangements affected their outcomes. Those living with a partner, a child, or other students were significantly more likely to progress to undergraduate studies than a student experiencing homelessness or living with parents or another relative. As Dr Forster highlights,

“Excelling in Higher Education is difficult in ideal circumstances; however, students who lack stable housing are at greater risk of leaving their studies. To ensure greater equity of access, policymakers must consider the provision of affordable student accommodation to alleviate the difficulties experienced by students at risk of, or experiencing homelessness.”

Speaking about Staying the Course Dr Fiona Faulkner, a Maths Lecturer teaching on the Access Foundation Programme at TU Dublin, said,

“We now live in an era where Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion along with a focus on alternative routes to education are rightly at the centre of our Higher Education policies. To encourage a diverse student population in Higher Education, Access students, like those on the Access Foundation Programme in TU Dublin, should be eligible for financial supports such as the SUSI grant.”

Dr Mark Prendergast, School of Education, University College Cork, and RAISE added,

“This is an important and timely piece of research that highlights the complexities of issues that Access students face as they try and make the transition to Higher Education in Ireland. The report provides clear evidence of the need for policymakers to target issues such as affordable housing and childcare for Access students so that they can concentrate fully on their studies and on successfully completing the programme.”

Other recommendations made by Staying the Course: Factors Affecting the Progression of Access Foundation Students at Technological University Dublin include: - Family commitments forced some students to leave the Access Foundation Programme. Providing childcare options would allow some Access Foundation students to remain in the programme. - Mental health issues had a negative effect on Access Foundation student progression. All students, particularly students suffering from mental health issues, should be reminded that their higher education institution offers a counselling service where students can discuss personal problems they are experiencing or academic difficulties. Access Foundation students who were unsure of their end goals were less likely to progress to higher education, and 35 per cent of Access Foundation students changed modules during the programme, which is more problematic in higher education. At a national level, consideration should be given to providing a programme similar to the Access Foundation programme to all students during their first year in higher education or during their Transition Year in secondary education to sample different subjects and disciplines.

Staying the Course: Factors Affecting the Progression of Access Foundation Students at Technological University Dublin is available to download from

Mark Prendergast
Mark Prendergast
RAISE Events Chair & Senior Lecturer in Education

My research interests include Mathematics Education, Teacher Education, and Adult Numeracy