About Us

OVERVIEW

OUR VISION

SOAR: Scaffold aspirations, achievement and access through socially-inclusive learning environments and community embedded mentoring.

OUR MISSION

Develop regional and community partnership strategies for increasing access to higher education.

WHO WE ARE

The South Cluster is comprised of University College Cork (lead), Cork Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology Carlow, Institute of Technology Tralee and Waterford Institute of Technology. The Cluster works in collaboration with community partners and stakeholders in the design and implementation of the SOAR Project.

WHO WE WORK WITH

The SOAR Project target groups include students from underrepresented socio-economic groups and communities; students with disabilities; mature students; members of the Irish Traveller community; students entering on the basis of a further education award; and part-time flexible learners.

HOW WE WORK

With a student-centred focus, we strive to adopt a partnership approach between key community organisations and cluster Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). The SOAR Project leverages existing local-level connections between HEIs, DEIS schools, community partnerships, cohort specific advocacy groups and seeks new partnerships to support project delivery. The development and maintenance of such partnerships is pivotal to the long term sustainability of the project and to a ‘whole-of-education’ approach to widening participation.

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BACKGROUND

The National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-2019 (National Access Plan) was published in December 2015. The vision of the National Access Plan is to ensure that the student body entering, participating in and completing higher education at all levels reflects the diversity and social mix of Ireland’s population. It sets out five goals to support increased access and participation in higher education by under-represented groups.

The Department of Education and Skills established the Programme for Access To Higher Education (PATH) Fund to support the implementation of the National Access Plan. The fund is managed by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and Strand 3 of PATH is intended to provide funding to support the objectives of Goal 5 namely to develop regional and community partnership strategies for increasing access to higher education by specified groups. Regional clusters of higher education institutions (HEIs) were invited to submit proposals under PATH 3; in response, the South Cluster devised the SOAR Project.

Further information on the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-2019 can be found here.

https://hea.ie/policy/national-access-plan/

GOVERNANCE

The South Cluster has a well-rounded and strategic operational and governance structure. The Steering Group is comprised of Registrars of the five participating institutions together with respective Access Officers. An Advisory Group provides project oversight with institutional expertise from Access Officers and community expertise from community partners. Adopting a distributed leadership model five work streams have an institutional lead and comprises relevant access staff and community partners to develop and agree project action plans. The Partnership for Access stream will span all other streams and is therefore the responsibility of all institutions and partners.

Governance