By Stephen Holland
A €300,000 fund to support Travellers in third-level education has been welcomed as a “good first step” by Traveller rights organisations but more needs to be done to address inequalities.
The funding aims to help Traveller progression in higher education during Covid19. It aims to support students with study spaces, health and social impacts, caring and responsibilities as well as technological support.
Higher Education Minister Simon Harris has announced the funding on the four-year anniversary of the State recognition of Traveller ethnic identity.
Minister Harris opened ceremonies in NUI Galway celebrating the anniversary of the State’s acknowledgement on Monday and has announced the roll-out in funding to support students from the Traveller community.
“The aim with this funding is to ensure that the risks associated with COVID-19 do not serve to widen the existing and very significant gap in participation in higher education by Travellers,” he said.
The funding has been welcomed by Travellers rights organisations which aim to bridge the social and economic gap between Travellers and settled people.
Anastasia Crickley, Chairperson of Pavee Point, said: “Pavee Point and the National Traveller Women’s Forum welcome this dedicated funding, which is a tangible response to the recommendations in the report of our National Forum last year on transfer to and progression within higher education.”
Ms Crickley added that this fund will help to specifically mitigate the
effects of Covid19 on Travellers within higher education.
“Essential special measures such as this are crucial to achieving real progress in realising education ambitions for Traveller families and we hope this marks an important milestone in enhanced approaches to collaborative engagement with colleagues across the wider education spectrum,” she said.
Higher Education Authority CEO, Dr Alan Wall, has also embraced the support claiming that it is necessary to ensure the student body “reflects the diversity and social mix of Ireland’s population”.
He stated that today’s announcement “will provide higher education institutions with the opportunity to tackle these issues through additional pre- and post-entry support for Traveller students. We value students from the Traveller community in higher education and we want to ensure that their participation is nurtured and increased”.
This announcement coincides with calls from the Irish Travellers Movement (ITM) for urgent government action to address Traveller equality.
ITM stated that there are still major inequities for Travellers in relation to “accommodation, education, health, employment, cultural identity and racism and discrimination”.
They state that implementation of a National Traveller Education Strategy is needed with a focus on safeguarding culture, visibility and positive promotion, as well as anti-racism protection.
Rosemarie Maughan, the National Traveller Accommodation Policy Officer with the ITM, explained that along with an education strategy an employment strategy is also needed to stop Travellers being discriminated against in the workplace.
“There’s no point going through an education system that’s saying Traveller ethnicity is recognised, respected and embraced, if we have to hide our identity and ethnicity in order to get a job,” she said.
Programme coordinator of the Access Centre in NUI Galway and member of the Irish travelling community Owen Ward said that the funding is a “good first step” but that “a lot more needs to be done”.
“13% of Travellers complete post primary school, less than 1% progress into higher education, we need a national Traveller education strategy that is focused on implantation”.
“That number is crazy, it’s extremely low. It needs urgent action,” he said.