DIT’s Access Foundation Programme (AFP) has introduced Garda vetting as a mandatory requirement for all applicants of its year long programme, in a recent measure.
DIT’s AFP is aimed at people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds or early school leavers. The purpose of the programme is to bring prospective students up to the required level for admission on to third level programmes.
A representative of DIT’s President Professor Brian Norton said that “a programme committee recently carried out a review of admissions procedures for the programme and this decision was taken at their meeting about 4 weeks ago as a result of that review”.
According to DIT’s admissions office, 120 students come through the AFP programme each year, with 90% of those entering into undergraduate programmes at DIT. Professor Brian Norton, President of DIT, said in a statement that “unlike any similar programme, a participant who successfully completes the [AFP] programme is automatically entitled to apply for any DIT undergraduate programme.”
Campus.ie have found that there are 118 full-time programmes accepting 1st year students in DIT. Of these 118 undergraduate programmes, 9 of those require Garda vetting; this amounts to 5.76% of all first year students.
With this new measure, 100% of AFP prospective students will be Garda vetted, even though only 9 of the 118 undergraduate programmes available to them after graduation from the AFP would require the measure in any other instance.
In addition to those 90% who go on to study at undergraduate level in DIT, the remaining 10% go on to study in various universities around Ireland. One such student is Mia De Faoite, an AFP graduate from 2012. Ms. De Faoite went on to complete a degree in Philosophy and Sociology in Maynooth University, following her completion of the AFP programme at DIT. At present, she is studying for a Masters in Law Degree (LLM), also in Maynooth.
In a recent letter to President Norton, Ms. De Faoite urged the president to reconsider implementing this new policy. In her letter, Ms. De Faoite stated that during a “dark part” of her life, she was addicted to heroin. From this, she descended “into a cruel and disturbing world of prostitution.”
Having spent six years of her life in that world, she managed to get out with the help of a social worker and the task of rebuilding her life began. Speaking to Campus.ie, Ms. De Faoite condemned the new requirements, saying: “It’s wrong, it doesn’t make sense and it’s illogical. It’s an elite access programme now. We can’t let it become the inaccessible programme.”
“Not only the fact that it’s discriminatory, it undermines the values and beliefs of every lecturer who shared their mind with me and taught me how to think. It undermines them and you shouldn’t do that. If I had have seen the Garda Vetting on the application form, I would have never filled it out.”
A number of student officials were available to comment on the story for Campus.ie.
President of DIT Student Union, Boni Odoemene said of the issue: “DITSU are seriously concerned that the implications of such a measure would not only discourage potential applicants, but sends a discordant message to what should be an inclusive process.”
He went on to say: “While it is an understandable common practice that students entering into certain courses where they would work with children or within the community as part of their placement, etc. would be subject to Garda Vetting, subjecting all of those looking to enter the DIT through Access is, quite frankly, an egregious measure.”
Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Deputy President Jack Leahy, upon being informed of the new measures, said: “Access programmes are often the way back into education or a normal life for someone who has a criminal past, for example. We don’t believe that people should be discriminated against in that sort of a way. Where there is the need to vet someone, I can see the relevance, but I don’t see the need to vet in a blanket situation.”
“An application for an access programme is nearly always the statement that somebody wants to be a productive member of society. It is very strange; it’s quite a discriminatory measure and acts as a needless barrier for somebody trying to access education.”
Leahy added: “I think that this is just a poorly considered measure that I hope they renege on. I am sure once they realise what the consequences of this action will be, that they will roll back on it.”
Cian Hackett, Mature Student Representative on the DIT Student Council, also commented on the issue. “ I think it is completely unnecessary, it’s kind of discriminating against people. It goes against what the programme is about. It is an Access Programme. They are putting barriers up in the way of people trying to access education.”
“It is discrimination because you have to do it to all students or do it to none. You can’t just do it to one section of DIT students. It’s literally saying people who come from school don’t have to be Garda vetted but mature students and young adults have to be vetted. What is the reason behind this?”, he added.
In response to the new entry requirement, Richard Boyd Barrett, TD for People Before Profit, commented on the issue. “I think it is absolutely disgraceful that DIT would even consider making Garda vetting compulsory for students entering into access programmes for courses in the University based on the community they are from.”
“Access programmes are very important for people in disadvantaged communities in accessing third level education. For DIT to discriminate against people from disadvantaged communities, is total snobbery. I will be pursuing this issue further in my capacity as a Dáil deputy and will be raising this matter directly with the Minister for Education.”
Senator Lynn Ruane has also raised the issue with DIT’s President Professor Brian Norton earlier this week, saying in an open letter to the President: “I am of the strong belief that University and Institute of Technology Access programmes are a fundamental part of how we tackle socio-economic inequality in Ireland and are a key asset in ensuring access to higher education for minority and disadvantaged groups.”
“As an access programme graduate myself, I am acutely aware that the inclusion of Garda vetting in the application process will not only discourage prospective applicants but sends a discordant message in what should be an inclusive process”, Senator Ruane added.
In a response to our reporters, DIT’s President Professor Brian Norton stated: “Garda vetting is currently a requirement for students and staff on some 30% of programmes offered in DIT.”
“There is no change in entry requirements for any applicant coming through our general Access route onto particular programmes where in some cases there is a requirement for Garda vetting. In the case of the Mature Access Foundation programme it has been decided to introduce Garda vetting at the initial application stage.”
“The Programme Committee, in its recent review of admissions procedures, feels it is better to bring that requirement into the application stage rather than wait till the Foundation programme is completed. Each application will continue to be reviewed on a case by case basis and it should be noted that Garda vetting would only affect an application if it revealed a matter of concern in relation to children and vulnerable adults.”
DIT’s Head of Admissions and Enrolment Planning Frank Costello was asked to comment on the matter and said: “We will be communicating that there will be no restriction and that anyone can apply. We have had many students come through our programme with criminal convictions and we manage that in a very positive way.”
The overseer of the AFP and the Head of the School of Hospitality Management and Tourism, Dominic Dillane was contacted by Campus.ie for comment and said: “ The decision on the introduction of Garda vetting arose from a review of admissions procedures for the programme, arising from a request to do so by lecturing staff at a meeting of the lecturing team and representatives from DIT’s Office of Access and Civic Engagement.”
“Concurrent with this, the Institute was reviewing and monitoring its policies in relation to Garda Vetting and, given that students on the access programme may progress to any undergraduate programme, it was timely to consider these issues as part of the review. “