This information session on 6 October, 2022 via Zoom, brought together Traveller and Roma organisations, stakeholders in the higher education sector and HSE staff working in the area of Traveller mental health.
Anastasia Crickley, presented the first substantive section of the session on the topic of the New National Access Plan for Equity of Access, Participation & Success in Higher Education (HE) 2022-2028.
Summarising the main historical perspective, she stated that “today is part of the on-going process that our Education Programme has engaged in. Out of a number of events organised and submissions made towards the development of the National Action Plan, this is now the 4th National Action Plan for equity of access. The 3rd National Action Pan was the first to mention Travellers, and Pavee Point campaigned for a specific action plan for the participation of Travellers in higher education as part of that Plan.”
The naming of Travellers and Roma in such plans is very important. “We must name minorities to ensure that they get their rights. We pushed hard for Traveller targets, and now also Roma, in higher education. We now need such targets for Travellers in primary and particularly post-primary level so that we can increase the transition of Travellers and Roma into further and higher education.”
Anastasia concluded by saying: “Equality is an asset in the pursuit of excellence. We are faced with a number of challenges, including racism and institutions whose cultures need to be changed. We need disaggregated data. We need a focused curriculum and cultural initiatives. It is the society that is deprived of the participation and contribution of all if Travellers and Roma are excluded.”
The next substantive session focused on supports to access higher education, including Traveller and Roma supports, by Dr Rose Ryan. Rose spoke from the perspective of a higher education institution, describing the supports currently in place for Travellers and Roma in higher education.
She described the pathways into higher education for socio economically disadvantaged and those with disabilities which offer university places on reduced points. She mentioned that the National Access Plan has set very specific actions for higher education institutions. “There is now a single person appointed as recruitment, outreach and transition officer for Travellers in each higher education institution. This is an individual that Travellers can trust.”
Megan Berry, Community Worker with Pavee Point and Traveller Outreach Officer with Maynooth University Access Programme followed and spoke about Traveller experiences and issues in access to higher education. She made the link between primary, secondary and third level education explicit. “We can’t talk about access to higher education without talking about other issues at primary and secondary levels. Children need a sense of belonging from day one which will translate into their entire educational journey. It is very isolating when you get into a new college/space and don’t have anyone to relate to – if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”
Low expectations of Travellers by teachers in primary/post-primary levels, negative experiences among Travellers with the education system, and high levels of racism and discrimination in the workforce prevent Travellers from pursuing higher education. “Traveller students trying to get accommodation are faced with very high levels of discrimination, and poverty is also an issue. The physical needs of the child, and adults, must be met first,” said Megan.
“Disaggregated data is also needed as we need to understand the types of experiences that Travellers are having throughout their whole educational experiences. Roma have similar experiences to Travellers and we also need to now push for measures and outcomes for Roma, in the way we have for Travellers.
Selection of themes and recommendations by participants:
Awareness of grants and supports:
- Participants were surprised how much supports and grants are out there, but did not know about them
- Counsellors at the secondary school level could make students and their families aware of the higher education supports available
- “This information needs to be available to people before they make a decision regarding whether they enroll or not in higher education, at secondary school level”
- “More accessible information is needed and presented in a way that it can be understood”
- “If you are the first in your family to go to higher education there is a dearth of knowledge in the family about how higher education works, how applications work and what is available. This information needs to be available to parents and explained to parents, carers etc.”
- “The information needs to be available to organisations who work with young people and Traveller organisations – the information needs to get out into the community”
- “Funding needed to make this information available to schools and organisations who work with members of the Travelling and Roma community”
- “Access to support in universities needs to be more accessible, if you are in a crisis an appointment in 3 or 4 weeks is not good enough”
- “There is a fear for parents filling out grant forms – losing some of their payments”
- Lack of access to wifi/internet in homes impacts negatively on educational achievement
Thoughts and recommendations regarding higher education institutions:
- Roma need to be more explicitly included
- casual language of racism in education settings and having to hide identity an issue
- “Increasing intercultural awareness is very important”
- “Is there enough knowledge around the needs and issues of Travellers and Roma outside the Access Office, is the knowledge and support limited to certain departments and programmes?”
- Delivery of training and programmes about the human rights situation of Travellers and Roma, interculturalism and anti-Traveller and Roma racism needed
- Concerns about placement/acceptance in certain sectors and employment opportunities after higher education
- Peer success, has to be shared and celebrated
- Traveller and Roma children are still experiencing isolation, stigma in school from earlier years to higher education. Have education institutions really become places of diversity, do campuses really reflect the society we live in today?
Outcomes and transition between education levels and employment:
- “Discrimination and bullying at the primary and secondary levels need to be explicitly dealt with by the school. Less discrimination is needed. A school Counsellor should be brought into the school to speak about bullying and those that are doing it should be suspended”
- Primary school system is particularly important- issues (importance of role modelling) and the importance of developing and embedding those role models across the educational spectrum
- Primary and Secondary level real/optimal learning conditions with no discrimination
- “More support needed for children going into school who may need help reading. They need to be assessed quickly and helped, not ignored because they are not good at reading and writing. They need to be made feel that they are just as important as the other students”
- “It is hard to get work after finishing a course. When they go out looking for a job they should be able to get a job”
- People who didn’t have a chance to finish their education could go back – more focus on FET is needed
- “Focus needed on outcomes – jobs, employment, apprenticeships etc.”
- New National Access Plan for Equity of Access, Participation & Success in Higher Education 2022-2028, Anastasia Crickley, Chairperson of Pavee Point.
- Traveller & Roma specific supports in higher education & other supports for Traveller & Roma students, Dr Rose Ryan, Director of Access, Maynooth University Access Programme.
- Traveller experiences and issues in access to higher education, Megan Berry, Community Worker with Pavee Point & Traveller Outreach Officer with Maynooth University Access Programme
- Interactive breakout rooms and feedback and Q&A from the rooms