NUI Galway has appointed alumnus Owen Ward as its first full-time Traveller Education Officer.
The new Traveller Education Officer will focus on assisting the Traveller community in overcoming barriers to higher education and ensuring students both remain and enjoy success in the University.
Owen, who is a member of the Traveller community and a qualified teacher, will work in conjunction with a number of Traveller organisations and the wider Traveller community to better understand the barriers facing Irish Travellers within higher education.
“The main objective of the project is to support the development of recruitment and support strategies and evidence-based teaching and learning methods in an effort to address the low levels of Travellers in higher education,” he said.
“It will empower Travellers in post-primary, further education and mature students to progress to higher education and build a sense of belonging, while being successful during their studies at NUI Galway.”
He noted that the project would be a continuation of the University’s efforts in increasing participation in higher education amongst Travellers.
His work as Traveller Education Officer will be key in the broader efforts of NUI Galway’s Access Centre. The Access Centre provides opportunities for a range of students, including those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.
The Head of the Access Centre Imelda Byrne said she was “absolutely thrilled for Owen, his family and his community” and that all involved in the Access Centre “are very excited to see” what he bring to the role.
Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris highlighted NUI Galway’s position at the forefront of working towards a higher education system that is inclusive of the Traveller community.
“Owen is an incredible role model for his family and the wider Traveller community. He has overcome adversity and changed the course of not only his own future but that of the wider Traveller community.
“As we strive towards a more inclusive higher education system for all, I have no doubt that Owen will play a huge part in this in the future. I wish him well in this new role and I want to commend NUI Galway for continuing to play a leadership role in this area.”
In November 2020, the Department of Further and Higher Education highlighted studies showing that 61 Travellers were in higher education. There are over 30,000 Irish Travellers in the country according to the 2016 Census.
The studies also found that roughly 1% of Travellers have attended third-level education.