The proportion of students entering Trinity from the lowest socioeconomic groups has remained unchanged since 2011, a new report has found, despite significant efforts by College to improve access in recent years.
The Annual Equality Monitoring Report, see by The University Times and submitted to the College Board in October, reveals that of new entrants in 2014-15, only two per cent came from “unskilled” backgrounds, while 0.2 per cent came from the “agricultural worker” background. These figures have not changed significantly over the last five years.
The report is carried out yearly by the Equality Monitoring Advisory Group. It gathers data from across College to provide what the report describes as a “snapshot of the diversity profile of staff and students in Trinity” for each academic year.
It focuses its efforts on nine grounds for discrimination identified in national equality legislation: age, civil status, disability, ethnicity/nationality, family status, gender, membership of the travelling community, religion and sexual orientation.
These figures can be used to “provide an evidence base for strategic action and a benchmark against which progress can be measured”, according to College Equality Officer, Aoife Crawford, speaking to The University Times via email.
Among those surveyed, 42 per cent of new entrants identified their parents as being either higher professionals or employers and managers. The least-represented groups in Trinity were children of semi-skilled, unskilled, manual or agricultural workers – all four categories amounting to just 10.2 per cent of new entrants. Farmers were also underrepresented, with only four per cent of new entrants coming from that background.
These figures had not seen any great variation over the five-year period listed in the report.
Commenting on the findings, Crawford remarked that this was not a trend isolated to Trinity by any means: “The overall student population throughout higher education in Ireland still predominantly come from ‘higher professional’ and ‘employers and managers’ backgrounds.”
The total number of admissions from traditionally underrepresented groups – which includes those experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage, disabled students and mature students – was 23.4 per cent. Nine per cent of those came from the socioeconomic category.
According to Lisa Keane, the Post-Entry Coordinator for the Trinity Access Programme (TAP), which works to enable those who come from underrepresented socioeconomic groups to come to Trinity, this is important in understanding Trinity’s progress in the area.
Speaking to The University Times, Keane said: “Trinity originally had a quota of 15 per cent of non-traditional students. In a very short amount of time, thanks to the type of management there is and the focus on widening participation in college, we’re now working towards 25 per cent by 2019.”
Pointing to a number of different reasons for the figures, Keane said that while within TAP “numbers are increasing within the quotas” set by the university, there is still a need to expand the entrance opportunities for disadvantaged students.
Keane pointed to the existence of schemes that have helped to increase access, such as the Higher Education Access Route (Hear), which offers college places and extra college support to school leavers from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, and the Disability Access Route to Education (Dare) scheme, which fulfils a similar function and is catered towards students with a disability. Keane commented that though helpful, these may not always cover as many students as they could: “[They’re] wonderful schemes, but some students from those groups do not meet the requirements for that scheme.”
She also spoke about Trinity’s foundation courses, which provide alternative routes for young adults whose social, economic and cultural experiences have prevented them from going to college, saying that “they’re there to alleviate these kinds of blockages, but they have capacity in that they can only take a certain number each year.” More emphasis on alternative access routes to the traditional CAO would improve the situation, she argues.
Keane cited the “crippling” impact of cuts to higher education: “If they’re key issues, those issues are going to be felt much more severely by those on the fringes here, and they’re the groups that they’re talking about.”
Other significant findings from the report included a continued increase in the number of students registering with the Disability Service since it was founded. Since 2000, usage has grown from 222 students to over 1,299. According to Crawford this trend is “most likely a reflection of the excellent service provided as well as a reduction in stigma around disclosing disability”.
The report found that 8.5 per cent of undergraduates and 4.4 per cent of postgraduates were registered with the service. Male students were overrepresented, making up 47 per cent of users. The report showed that 58 per cent of the student population was female, meaning that the near 50-50 split in those using the service did not reflect College demographics overall.
Most students registered with the service did so due to a specific learning disability, such as dyslexia. However, 21 per cent of students, the second largest group, were registered with the service for mental health reasons.
The report moreover had provided interesting insight into gender and ethnicity both among students and staff. The report found, for example, that even though women make up 58 per cent of the student body, they only comprised 49 per cent of scholarship and Gold Medal awardees respectively, a relative underrepresentation given their predominance. Seventy-three per cent of Fellows are male and only 22 per cent of Chair Professors are female, though this marks a 13 per cent increase from 2012.
Speaking to The University Times via email, Secretary of the Scholars Committee, Samuel Johnston, commented on the underrepresentation of women among scholars: “Generally speaking, it seems to be the case that men are slightly more likely to put themselves forward to sit the exams”, he went on to highlight that this was not an issue that had been overlooked by college authorities, saying that “senior lecturers often place emphasis on attempting to encourage greater numbers of women to sit the exams.”
In terms of staff appointments, the report found that over 80 per cent of applicants for employment in the university were white, and over 97 per cent of eventual appointees were of that same ethnicity. A further 11 per cent of applicants but only one per cent of appointees were Asian. Approximately one per cent of applicants and one per cent of appointees were black, and five applicants, zero appointees, were members of the travelling community, marking these groups as the least represented among College staff.
Widening participation of underrepresented groups in undergraduate programmes is a key objective in Trinity’s Strategic Plan 2014-19. College has worked to achieve this through programmes like TAP, which has operated for 17 years.
Last year, it was announced that Lady Margaret Hall, a constituent college of the University of Oxford would collaborate with Trinity on a four-year pilot scheme modelled on TAP. The scheme will see students from underrepresented backgrounds offered a “foundation year” at the university in the hopes of attracting a wider range of students from underrepresented groups.