Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) has brought in a new step for mature students and young adults applying to study through its access programme: Garda vetting.
It’s a move that puts it at odds with other university access programmes in the city, and one that critics say discriminates against access students, some of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“It simply isn’t fair to discriminate against certain students and not against others,” says Dublin City Councillor Gary Gannon, of the Social Democrats.
But DIT official Frank Costello says the policy change stems from a greater need for Garda vetting in general at the university. That’s because many students will go on to do placements that require it, he said.
Costello, who is DIT’s head of admissions and enrolment planning, says its new policy was brought in after a lot of thought.
“We’ve had a really good look at this,” he says. “The last thing we want to do is prohibit people applying to DIT.”
Garda vetting is needed to protect both the university and potential access programme students, he said.
Usually, employees, volunteers, or students undergo Garda vetting if they are going to be working around children or vulnerable adults, according to An Garda Síochána.
Students need to be aware from the off that they may need Garda vetting at some point, as close to 30 percent of programmes at DIT will require it, Costello said.
“Some students may well have an issue about it, and the placements would have an issue about it as well, and we want to ensure that we’re confident during the course of that year rather than that happening at a later stage,” he said.
“Just to be clear about this, we are, and we have in the past, taken on students from a very diverse background and we are delighted to and we’ll continue to do so,” says Costello.
A spokesperson for Trinity College Dublin says the application process for its access programme also does not require Garda vetting.
Gannon says DIT’s introduction of this new rule means that many of those who would have applied to the access programme will be turned off.
“It may create a mindset in students, many of whom would come from backgrounds where college wasn’t the norm for them or they weren’t necessarily confident of applying in the first place,” says Gannon. “It could self-disqualify them in many ways from applying.”
Many access students don’t go on placements so they never need Garda vetting for that, he said. (By Costello’s figures, around 70 percent wouldn’t need it.)
Those who do go on placement during university – mainly students on social-care or science-related courses – do so with the full knowledge they will require Garda vetting at some stage, he said.
Putting up this new barrier goes against the driving idea behind access programmes, making university seem harder to access, and putting some off applying, he said.
“People who might have had a criminal past, one of the best ways they can take themselves and their family out of that cycle is through education,” he says.
Says Costello: “Many other institutions have the right to refuse registration or otherwise with respect to students with a background that might be a criminal background or otherwise. We don’t have that at this moment in time.”
The new policy is about the students as much as anybody else, Costello says. “Some students coming in (…) do have a history. Some of that history might have a bearing on them going on placement in certain programmes,” he says.
But Gannon says that bringing up a student’s past with them straight away is insulting, and going to put off people who could be great students.
“It’s going to result in DIT probably not having such students in the future. That’s a real shame,” he said.
If 100 percent of students cohort – not just access programme students – were being Garda vetted that would be fair, says Gannon. Otherwise it’s discriminatory, he says.