Maynooth University – Kildare, Ireland

The student support office/ programme in Maynooth University is called the Maynooth University Access Programme and is part of the office of the Vice President for Equality and Diversity (EDI). This Access Office was established in 1998 with an Access Officer being appointed in the same year, while a Disability Officer was not appointed on a full time permanent basis until 2004. Maynooth supports students with disabilities, students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds and mature students; these groups are identified through the National Access Plan and the University’s internal policies.

In the last two years the programme has carried out multiple activities with regard to equal access, inclusion and diversity, such as:


  • Support and counselling for students and university staff
  • Lectures, workshops, seminars for students, faculty and non-teaching staff
  • Training courses for peer educators
  • Public promotion (e.g. production of media content such as podcasts)
  • Improving physical and digital accessibility


In addition to these activities to support inclusion, the programme also implements strategy/ action plans and recommendations/ guidelines to counter exclusionary and discriminatory practices at the university, as well as implementing the innovative practise/tool called the Active Consent eLearning module for students to support themselves and their peers with regard to sexual violence and harassment.

The motivation for establishing the office was to support students with disabilities, students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds and mature students to consider third level education by coordinating outreach activities designed to raise aspirations and to provide academic, financial, personal and social post-entry support. These supports are focused on diverse entrants making a successful transition to third level education and feeling a sense of belonging at the university. Maynooth has a strong reputation for being welcoming of mature students with a supportive application and admissions process. The Disability Act 2005 provided a legal basis for making public services accessible and saw the appointment of Disability Access Officers in accordance with section 26(2) of the Act. The factors that led to establishing MAP for wider inclusion was to encourage under-represented groups to consider Higher Education as a real option and; provide access routes and post entry supports, embed accessibility and diversity issues into the culture of the University, thereby influencing the development of inclusive policies and practices, to widen participation so that all groups in Irish society are fully represented in the student population and finally, to coordinate a range of supports that promote independence and help students reach their full academic potential. MAP works with the University so that students with specific access and support needs are treated equitably. The Access Office became the Maynooth University Access Programme in 2006 to acknowledge that the combined programmatic nature of delivering support has universal applicability to all diverse student cohorts. Maynooth University’s model that unites staff who support students from all underrepresented cohorts has been replicated across the sector, for a successful inclusive nature and the efficiencies and opportunities offered. These cohorts include students with disabilities, students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, mature students, students from the further education sector with QQI qualifications, students from the Traveller and Roma communities, students with criminal justice history, students from ethnic minority backgrounds, students who were in the care of the state, students who are migrants, refugees or who are from ethnic minorities who are lawfully present in the State, lone/ teen parents, carers and students who have experienced homelessness. Maynooth University has a proud history of supporting equality, diversity and equality of access. In 2019, the University made the decision to consolidate strategic and operational responsibility for equality and diversity, including access and widening participation, within the remit of the Vice President for Equality and Diversity.
The activities of the programme are regulated by national policy.
The Director of Access reports directly to the Vice-President for Equality and Diversity (having formerly reported to the Registrar) and the MAP office sits within this structure. The Office of the Vice President for Equality and Diversity was developed to realise the University’s core values of equality, inclusiveness, social justice, dignity and respect, and to fulfil its obligations in this area and as an equal opportunities employer and public service provider. The MAP Team comprising core staff and affiliated staff delivers the widening participation outreach programme, the post entry advisory support for all MAP-supported students, backed up by a hub of administrators. MAP also oversees the Student Assistance Fund and the four PATH funded projects at Maynooth University (Turn to Teaching, 1916 Bursary, College Connect, Universal Design in Education).
The major challenges which the programme had to overcome include; change management, HEI bureaucracy, staff capacity, agreeing the scope and impact, and a variety in ethos and approaches across institutions, the unpredictability of the Fund for Students with Disabilities funding model, and the fixed duration of project funding with spending windows of 12 months. Funding is relatively stable and is currently financed by HEA core funding.
MAP has measured success via Institutional Quality Reviews and the CINNTE Institutional Self-Evaluation Report (ISER). The programme has aligned their development with the University’s Strategic Plan consultative planning process and the Campus Master Plan. A wealth of MAP quantitative data exists including entrant headcount, MAP student population headcount, attainment, progression, retention and graduation statistics. Engagement with supports, including Student Central, examination accommodations, technological, financial, academic and transition programmes and activities is also tracked. The EDI team tracks the diversity of staff and students. All MAP and EDI activities are evaluated for their impact and qualitative outcomes for participants. Quantitative data is derived from SSRS reports and Jaspersoft reports pulled from the Student Records System at key University reporting census dates. Overall Maynooth University entrant and headcount data is provided by the Institutional Research Office. Other sources of quantitative data include engagement levels in activities, attendance at events, participation in the virtual learning environment and progression through the Maynooth Inclusive Learning Online (MILO) platform. Qualitative feedback is sought through surveys, focus groups and debriefing sessions. The CINNTE Institutional Review Report was submitted to Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI).

Maynooth University Access Programme

Kildare, Ireland