The MU International Office is the first point of contact for international students applying for full-degree, Erasmus, Study Abroad, and Summer School programmes, and supports MU students who wish to study abroad.
It is well evidenced that people with criminal convictions are disproportionately drawn from groups which are under-represented in higher education. The Prison Education Taskforce, established in May 2023 aims to ensure greater alignment between prison education and the tertiary education system. This builds on the increased prioritisation and supports for students with a criminal justice history accessing higher education.
Participative, experiential, and creative methods were used in this study to explore the views and insights of 34 Pathways Centre participants who had prior convictions on the factors that may either encourage or discourage participation or progression in higher education.
The report includes key insights on the barriers experienced by this group as well as highlighting areas where action is required.
International evidence on experiences of students with criminal justice history in higher education
Students with a Criminal Justice History explicitly named nationally as a priority group in policy and practice
The purpose of The 1916 Bursary is to encourage participation and success by students who are most socio-economically disadvantaged and who are from groups most under-represented in higher education, including students with experience of the criminal justice system.
Unlocking Potential Toolkit for HE
Unlocking Potential is a project led by Maynooth University Access Programme and the MU School of Law and Criminology in collaboration with the Irish Prison Service, Irish Probation Service, the Pathways Centre, the Irish Penal Reform Trust and City of Dublin ETB. Unlocking Potential is a research policy project which aims to develop a ‘fair admissions toolkit’ to guide the redevelopment of Higher Education Institutions' (HEI) convictions policies and foster a common approach to the admission of people with convictions across the higher education sector.
The Unlocking Potential toolkit includes a template fair admissions policy (PDF | Word) and set of principles for fair admissions (PDF | Word) which can help to structure HEI approaches to develop a fair and inclusive admissions policy for people with convictions. The toolkit also provides information on collecting criminal records data in line with GDPR (PDF | Word) for HEI admissions in Ireland.
Unlocking Potential Documentary
This short film highlights the transformative power of Higher Education for people with previous convictions. Paula, Wayne, Joe and James tell their story.
In 2019, Maynooth University and Mountjoy Prison came together to establish Ireland’s first university-prison partnership. The MJMU Partnership aims to harness the transformative power of education to promote access to third level and support the reintegration of prisoners and former prisoners in society. We support engagement by the university within the space of the prison through a range of educational activities and through the creation of shared learning spaces for students in prison and students in university.Building on the great work which has already been taking place between the university and Mountjoy, the partnership provides strategic direction and support for a range of new initiatives, some of which are detailed below.
Our work is guided by a Steering Group, whose membership is drawn from both organisations and includes current and former prisoners. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Public Service Innovation Fund 2019.
The MJMU Partership was launched on 19 April 2021. This online event was hosted by Eddie Mullins, Governor of Mountjoy Prison and Professor Aislinn O'Donnell, Head of the Department of Education at Maynooth University. Minister Simon Harris attended to provide his Department's endorsement and support of the partnership.
The Change Makers Story Exchange Project is a collaborative initiative between Mountjoy Prison Progression Unit, Maynooth University Access Programme, Gaisce – The President’s Award and Narrative4. The project has been running annually since September 2019 to bring together young people incarcerated in the Mountjoy Prison Progression Unit and MU students over 6 weeks.
The Change Makers Story Exchange works by randomly partnering people from the group and getting them to tell each other a story from their lives. When everyone comes together again as a group, they re-tell their partner’s story in the first person. The MU students taking part in the project are part of the MAP Student Ambassador Programme, a volunteering student-led initiative which promotes access to third level for people with fewer opportunities.
The Change Makers Story Exchange uses the Gaisce Award framework, which means that all participants receive a Gaisce award for their contribution to the project. Photo: MAP Student Ambassador Iqura Naseem receiving her Gaisce Award recognising her participation in Change Makers Story Exchange.
The KickStart Scholarship has been established by The Probation Service and supported by the Irish Prison Service, to support students with a criminal justice history who are experiencing socio-economic disadvantage and are attending one of the Midlands East North Dublin (MEND) institutions of higher education.
The priority group for the KickStart Scholarship Fund are applicants who: (i) have a criminal conviction, (ii) are experiencing socio-economic disadvantage, and (iii) are commencing undergraduate third level education.
These scholarships meet a strategic objective of the Working to Change Social Enterprise and Employment Strategy 2021-2023 (www.workingtochange.ie).
Unlocking Potential portal
Harnessing the transformative power of education, the goal of Unlocking Potential is to build the diversity of the third level student population whilst supporting the reintegration of people with convictions, prisoners and former prisoners in our society.
Unlocking Potential Podcast
The Unlocking Potential Podcast episodes highlight the effects and impacts of admissions policies and supports for people with convictions.
Across the series, Dr Joe Garrihy explores the educational journeys and experiences of students with criminal convictions including the barriers faced and the resilience of those who have achieved their goals. Contributions from stakeholders highlight key issues including GDPR, employment, social enterprise, and Unlock UK’s work. This is essential listening for anyone with an interest in second chances, desistance, inclusive education and social justice.
Mountjoy Lecture Series
Those entering higher education from under-represented backgrounds, including people with convictions, can sometimes find themselves funnelled into particular disciplines and careers - sociology, social work, addiction services.
The MJMU Partnership has committed to running a series of lectures in Mountjoy to open up a broader range of academic experiences to inmates. The lecture series launched in February 2020 with the inaugural lecture delivered by Dr. Conor Murphy (Geography Department) on climate change. Since then, the lecture series has grown in number with up to 8 lectures planned in 2023-24.
MAP Advisory Supports
The MAP Student Advisory Service is made up of a collaborative team of experts with backgrounds in education, psychology, social work, community & youth work and educational technology. The MAP Student Advisory team works to support over 3000 students from a variety of diverse backgrounds, including students with a criminal justice history. Students are provided with a comprehensive range of academic, personal and financial assistance and signposted to a wide array of university supports to support each student's potential and success.
Check out the Unlocking Potential blog posts to read about the personal experiences and insights of people who have an understanding of the needs of students with criminal justice history in accessing higher education and the impact of making this transition.
Evaluation of Change Makers Story Exchange
The first year of the Change Makers Story Exchange project was documented and evaluated by Sarah Meaney (Research Manager, College Connect Project & Department of Adult and Community Education).
The Unlocking Potential Project is actively involved in research initiatives aimed at addressing the challenges faced by people with criminal justice histories in higher education and employment. This research is carried out by Dr Joe Garrihy, Maynooth University School of Law and Criminology and Chair of the Unlocking Potential Working Group and Dr, Ciara Bracken-Roche, Maynooth University School of Law and Criminology and a member of the Unlocking Potential Working Group.
Boxed Out: Higher Education
Collaboration with IPRT: This empirical study, funded by the Irish Research Council New Foundations, is conducted in collaboration with the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT).
Early Findings: Preliminary findings reveal disparities in policies and practices across HEIs, with a focus on attitudes, concerns, and reputational considerations.
Deterrent Practices: Policies and practices related to convictions are found to deter prospective students from applying, leading to heightened experiences of shame, isolation, and stigma.
Boxed Out: Employment
Complementary Project: This distinct project, supported by the IPRT and the Open Doors Initiative, focuses on barriers and access to employment for people with criminal justice histories.
Employer Perspectives: It explores how employers often frame their approaches around the paradigm of risk and liability, along with concerns about reputational damage.
Stigmatisation: People with criminal justice histories continue to face stigmatisation and the burden of a criminal record, leading to challenges in securing careers rather than just jobs.
Need for Nuance: Application processes are identified as requiring more individualisation and nuance to support the employment prospects of people with criminal justice histories.
Both the Boxed Out: Higher Education and Boxed Out: Employment projects are advancing with data collection complete, and analysis is currently underway. These initiatives aim to foster a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by people with criminal justice histories and inform policy changes to promote inclusivity and opportunity.
KickStart scholarship awardees and experiences
This scholarship has greatly helped awardees in affording day to day college expenses including food, electricity, living supplies, and funding accessible transport to college.
Quote from MU Kickstart Scholarship Awardee:
“I finally feel included with no judgements, boosting my self-esteem. I hope one day more people like me get this wonderful opportunity.”
The Prison Education Taskforce was established on 23 May 2023 and is jointly chaired by the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris and the Minister of State with responsibility for Law Reform in the Department of Justice, James Browne. (Press Release 31 May 2023).
The aim of the Prison Education Taskforce is to ensure improvements in the work and training area and greater alignment between prison education and the tertiary education system to support prisoners in benefiting from education and training opportunities while in custody to support their rehabilitation and access to employment post-release.
The Prison Education Taskforce Workplan strategic objectives include;
enhancing the understanding of the education, training needs of the prison population, strengthening information and reporting on education and training delivered in prisons,
realising the potential for greater alignment across the prison education and training services and tertiary provision to ensure labour market readiness for prisoners on release,
deepening and intensifying existing partnerships between the prison education and the tertiary education system,
ensuring the role of education and training system in supporting transition of prisoners out of the prison system is maximised to reduce recidivism risk,
supporting Open University provision and other Higher Education linkages and to explore potential for educational programmes for family members of prisoners.