Like many of my generation, neither of my parents had the opportunity to go to college after school, and they were determined that their own children would have the opportunities they both had wanted. My Dad worked in a factory and later studied part-time at night to become an Engineer. My Mum had always wanted to become a PE teacher working in a secondary school, as she was (and still is!) very sporty and encouraging of everyone around her to get active. As her own father died when she was just twelve years old, she had to leave school early to train and work as a legal secretary to support her younger siblings.
Education has been the most important priority in my family, and it has proven to be the foundation that provided opportunities to develop both personally and professionally. Earning qualifications greatly enhances the possibilities to find work that is both enjoyable and rewarding. I believe that everyone should have equal access to further education after school, regardless of gender, race or class. Cognitive barriers include negative stereotyping that suggests some people are excluded from certain professions on the grounds of 'suitability', or are simply inhibited from applying and trying certain courses that would be their own personal, natural choices. Material barriers include a lack of affordable childcare, unsuitable rental and student accomodation, the student 'administration' fee, and the unsustainably high costs of living.
The up-take of college places by students attending school in areas that have experienced significant under-investment for generations is particularly low, especially compared with private schools or well-funded non-fee-paying schools. Many school-leavers just don't feel that university is a place that they can and should expect to move on to after school. This has to change, not just to allow those students to become the best they can be, and to realise their talents and skills at the individual level, but also to change the opportunity structure and culture of expectations for their peers and those following in their wake, thereby impacting on their wider communities.
Universities' Access programmes have made great strides in this area, but a more targeted approach is required to even out the socio-economic playing field. Mentoring from primary school stages and regular visits to college campuses will help to raise expectations and create a normalisation of further educational opportunities for these cohorts.
The university sector, like many other sectors in public life, has structural inequalities built into systems of recruitment and promotion of staff, as well as students, based on multiple dimensions of gender, race, and class. In terms of gender, Ireland has the second worst glass ceiling in Europe for female professors. Progress has been made towards dismantling the glass ceiling, but progress is slow. I propose an independent, expert taskforce to oversee and recommend anti-discrimination changes within the educational sector.
Further details of my proposed intitatives to combat inequality in education are below:
Dr. Karen Devine