Trinity Access Foundation Course provides model for new Oxford initiative

Oxford University has announced a major access initiative modelled on the Trinity Access Foundation Course. For over 20 years Trinity’s Foundation Course for Higher Education has tackled educational disadvantage by offering another way to third-level education for young adults and mature students whose social, economic and cultural experiences might otherwise have prevented them from going to college.

Since 2016, Trinity Access has worked closely with Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University, on the development of a pilot Foundation Year for low-income students. Today Oxford has announced it will now offer up to 50 places to low-income young adults by 2023 under a new initiative called Foundation Oxford, closely modelled on the Trinity Access Foundation Course. It will also offer up to 200 places on Opportunity Oxford, a month-long summer bridging course for students from low-income backgrounds.

Trinity Access Foundation Course prepares students, both personally and academically, to go on and study at degree level. Students have come from communities in the Greater Dublin area, such as Finglas, Ballymun, Tallaght and Ballyfermot, which have relatively low rates of participation in higher education. Many of the mature students were early school leavers, while the young adults come from schools that are linked to Trinity Access or other access offices and took part in outreach activities while in school.

Since the course began in 1997, 95% of graduates from the Foundation Course have progressed to degree level studies, and 652 students have progressed to degree courses in Trinity College Dublin.

Speaking about the Oxford University development, Dr Cliona Hannon, co-director of Trinity Access, commented: “Trinity Access Foundation Course students have been the pioneers of educational change in Trinity College Dublin for over 20 years.  Lady Margaret Hall Foundation Year students have followed their lead, proving that talent and potential can be realised through opportunity. We are delighted to see the wider development of the Foundation Year through Foundation Oxford.”

Trinity Access was established in 1993 to tackle inequalities in access to higher education. Since then, over 3,000 have entered Trinity via Trinity Access entry routes and over 10,000 students engage in a school- and university-based educational outreach programme, Trinity Access 21, each year. Trinity Access also works closely with teachers in the second-level system, aiming to create engaged, active teaching and learning environments, where teachers are supported to innovate and students can lead their learning.

Over 25% of Trinity’s students are from under-represented backgrounds, including those from low-income households, students with a disability and mature students. Grant Thornton has provided financial support and a career development programme to Trinity Access Foundation Course students for eleven years, which has enhanced the academic experience with essential skills and networks for early career planning.

Case studies

Alexander Fay was born and reared in Dublin’s north inner city, and is the first in his family to go to college. Commenting on his experience of doing the Foundation Course, he said: “My parents left school in their early teens, which wasn’t unusual for their generation and unfortunately is still normal for many young people in my area. However, at that age I was constantly in Trinity with the Trinity Access outreach programmes, learning about the college environment. When it came to finishing school, I knew the Trinity Access Foundation Course should be my next step. The application wasn’t points-based, but focused on who I was as a person. The course itself was amazing and made me feel like Trinity was for me, that I belong here. I’m now studying Science, and also give school talks and tours as an ambassador for the Access Programmes.”

Aedin McAdams recently finished her degree in zoology, and first heard about Trinity Access and the Foundation Course in secondary school. She followed her sister into the course. “It helped me bridge the gap from school to college and helped me get into my dream course,” she explains. “Taking part in Trinity Access has opened up so many doors, given me the confidence in public speaking, allowing me to meet new people, and reaching for goals I didn’t even know I had. The Foundation Course was the best year of my life. It completely changed my life in all the best ways, and it’s a story I’ll continue to tell to hopefully inspire other students to go to college and achieve their dreams.”

Kenny Olaniyi, a final year law and business student, completed the Foundation Course in 13/14 after graduating from Balbriggan Community College, a Trinity Access-linked school. “I did not get enough points for my number one choice in the CAO, but I had applied and interviewed for the course so I was very happy when I was offered a place and grasped it with both hands!” he explained. “On the course I took modules in the social science stream as well career guidance that helped inform me on the course I wanted to do in Trinity. I also took study skills and academic writing modules that helped with the transition into first year. Overall, it was a fantastic year for me where I got taught by amazing lecturers and made some really close friends.

About Trinity Access:

The Trinity Access programmes support people from areas with low progression rates to higher education to reach their full educational potential. It offer a range of access programmes for people with the enthusiasm, motivation and ability to succeed at third-level. The team at Trinity Access engage with communities and schools in low progression areas to encourage a positive mindset and support real steps towards going to university. The Foundation Course for young adults was established in 1999 and to date 90% (364 students) of graduates from this course have progressed on to degree courses in Trinity College. The Foundation Course for young adults was established in 1999 and to date 90% (364 students) of graduates from this course have progressed on to degree courses in Trinity College Dublin.