The focus of this study is the provision of Access courses for Irish adults. This interest arose from the researcher's involvement with Access initiatives in one Irish higher education institution. The principal research questions investigate the development of the policies and practices associated with the Access movement in Ireland. The research begins from the theoretical, and narrows down to an examination of policies and perceptions, then to initiatives, and fmally to the experiences and voices of a small number of Access students. Action research methodology, selected as an appropriate approach for a practitioner working in the field, is used to investigate these questions. In attempting to answer the principal research questions, the study examines the defmitions and rationales for Access. This leads to a categorisation of such rationales in terms of equity, economic and social factors, and those connected with personal development. A comparative analysis of world-wide trends and EU educational policy and provision in a number of selected countries is next undertaken, prior to an examination of recent Irish Access policy. The comparative research report commissioned by the Irish government from Professor Skilbeck was not foreseen when this study began, but it is such an important recent influence on Irish policy that it is given serious consideration. The study moves from an examination of policy to that of practice. A national survey of Access course providers is carried out to show the extent and nature of Access provision. At a more local level, the outcomes for a selected group of Access students are examined, including the experiences of a small number of students from this group. From these a number of key issues arise and are considered. The answer to the research questions posed is that a conflation of economic investment in education; social cohesion strategies; membership of the EU; equity awareness, the 'Celtic Tiger' and an increased demand by adults for education are the forces driving Access in Ireland. Analysis of representations by one group, and reinforced by the survey of Access students show that students represent the least source of influence on Access policy and practice. The study demonstrates that education is now conceived as an 'absolute good', capable of tackling many ills in society. The research concludes with a SWOT analysis showing the strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats that arise in relation to the expansion of Access opportunities in Ireland. This is followed by a number of key points for practice and suggestions for further research
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