Analysis: How the HEAR scheme works in different HEIs around the country

The higher education access route for school leavers from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds differs depending on the institution

The Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) is a college and university scheme developed by the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in partnership with the Central Applications Office (CAO).

The scheme offers courses on reduced points and extra college support to school leavers from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds who are residents in the Republic of Ireland. 

HEIs that participate in HEAR include; Dublin City University (DCU), Technological University Dublin ((TUD), National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM), University College Dublin (UCD), National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway), University College Cork (UCC), University of Limerick (UL), Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI), Munster Technological University (MTU), Technological University of the Shannon (TUS) Midlands Midwest, and Trinity.

HEAR is for eligible students under the age of 23 as of 1 January 2021 who are resident in the Republic of Ireland. 

To be eligible, students must meet the HEAR income limit (on or below €45,790 in 2020) plus the right combination of 2 other indicators to be eligible such as; personal or familial possession of a Medical Card/GP Visit Card, a parent or guardian who received means-tested social welfare payment for at least 26 weeks in 2020, a parent’s or guardian’s employment status under-represented in Higher Education, attendance at a Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) second level school for five years, or living in an area of concentrated disadvantage.Each HEI reserves a minimum of 5% of its places for reduced points offers for HEAR. 

According to the ‘DARE HEAR Summary Report 2020’ by the Irish Universities Association (IUA), In 2020, 61% of HEAR applicants met the eligibility criteria. In 2020, 3548 individual applicants to HEAR received an offer of a place in higher education. 1579 reduced points offers were made to HEAR eligible applicants who had not met the normal points requirements for their preferred course, while 3865 additional offers were made to those HEAR eligible applicants who achieved on or above the points required). 

Notable figures from the report include a 14% increase in the number of offers to applicants who were eligible for HEAR, compared to 2019, a 15% increase in the number of HEAR eligible applicants accepting offers, compared to 2019,  8.2% of all offers to CAO applicants (under 23 with a current Leaving Certificate) were HEAR eligible applicants (compared to 7.8% in 2019), and 8.4% of all CAO offers accepted (under 23 with a current Leaving Certificate) were HEAR eligible applicants (compared to 7.9% in 2019).

Difference in intake

DCU has the largest intake of HEAR students for level 8 courses, as it allocates 10% of first year places on all full time level 8 undergraduate courses at reduced points entry to students entering through the HEAR scheme. Students who achieve on or above 300 points automatically receive a DCU HEAR offer.

TU Dublin (TUD) reserves a minimum of 5% up to 10% of places on a reduced-points basis to HEAR-eligible students on all full time level 8, level 7 and level 6 courses. TUD offers an approximate points reduction up to 12.5% on the required points for each programme.

NUIM reserves a minimum of 5.5% of first year intake for students entering through HEAR on reduced points.

UCC reserves approximately 5% of first year places for students applying under the HEAR scheme. Eligible students must also achieve a minimum of 300 points and at least 85% of the Leaving Certificate points required for the course,

UCD reserves approximately 5% of places for HEAR eligible applicants. Similarly to UCC, eligible students must also have a minimum of 300 points and be within 20% of the points required.

NUI Galway reserves 5% of places for HEAR applicants. Those eligible also need to achieve approximately 80 – 90% of the Leaving Certificate points required for the course.

Trinity reserves less than 10% of places on all full time undergraduate courses for HEAR applicants. Speaking to Trinity News, Dr Rónán Smith, HEAR Representative at Trinity Access Programmes (TAP) said: “ [Trinity] has a 25% admissions quota for non-traditional students. This is split evenly between HEAR, DARE (disability access route) and mature students, each with just above 8%”. He noted that “this quota is applied to all courses so every course in [Trinity] has at least 8% of its places ringfenced for HEAR students”.

He continued: “Since 2014 around 5 to 6% of all HEAR eligible candidates in the country were offered a level 8 course in [Trinity]. This has increased to 7.7% in 2021.”

Supports post-entry 

Speaking to Trinity News, Head of the Access Service at DCU, Cathay McLoughlin, stated that HEAR students receive unlimited support during their time at the university. She said: “Students are supported for the full four years at DCU”, in comparison to the support for students at other HEIs being limited to first year.

“Students receive financial, mental health and academic support as well as receiving a nominated support worker who can help with any concerns they may have during their studies,” McLoughlin continued.

According to McLoughlin, 10% of DCU’s total student population are access students.

Speaking to Trinity News, Trinity’s HEAR Representative, Dr Rónán Smith, stated that there is “a range of academic, social and financial supports provided for students who enter through the HEAR scheme”. 

However, Smith noted that while there has been “a huge amount of successful work done in this area (…) it is by no means finished”.

“The financial supports available are not sufficient to bridge the gap for all students and many HEAR students will report lower engagement in extracurricular activities due to work or caring commitments,” he continued.

Financial supports for said students at Trinity include two that are limited to Junior Fresh students and the TAP Student Assistance Fund for all full time undergraduate students. This particular fund helps students cover costs of books, rent, and food etc., but not with tuition fees, registration fees or student loans.

According to Smith, 90% of HEAR students from Trinity complete their degree and are marked the same as that of traditional entrants.

Bella Salerno

Bella Salerno is currently a Deputy News Editor of Trinity News. She is a Senior Fresh Middle Eastern, Jewish and Islamic Civilisations and French student.