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Minister Harris inspecting an autism-friendly sensory room at National College of Ireland. Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Colleges to get €3 million euro a year to support students with autism

Funding will start to be rolled out next year to approved projects.

HIGHER EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS will receive a total of €3 million a year until 2025 to implement new initiatives that support autistic students and those with an intellectual disability access third level education.

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris TD announced the proposals today which will form part of the proposed new National Access Plan.

Funding in 2022 will be directed towards universal design and inclusive practices.

This includes supporting autism friendly campuses through wayfinding apps, signage, small-scale capital works such as autism-friendly spaces such as sensory rooms or quiet zones.

The funding this year may also be used for training and professional development for staff, including training resources and recruitment of specialists, to develop and enhance of inclusive teaching, learning and assessment practices. 

Speaking today, Harris said: “We have never focused on how many students with an intellectual disability or autism have entered or completed third level.

“These new proposals will allow us to assess how we are doing but crucially, we will be introducing new policy changes to ensure we do better.”

Later this year, a competitive funding call will issue to colleges seeking proposals for three year pathfinding pilot programmes supporting students with intellectual disabilities.

Funding for approved programmes and courses will be rolled out over three years commencing in 2023.

A 2020 report from AHEAD, a non-profit organisation promoting inclusivity in education and employment for people with disabilities, found that there had been a 21% increase in third level students with some form of autism since 2018.
6.9% of students who accessed disability support services had some form of autism, however over the previous seven years there was a 37% increase in the number of students per disability support staff member. 

Harris also said: “Education is the greatest leveller in society. A key ambition for me is to ensure that supports and opportunities are provided for learning to all.

“This means recognising the needs of vulnerable learners, people who are most marginalised and people with special and additional needs and assisting them in accessing and progressing through third level education.”

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