A new third-level scholarship fund, which aims to support people with criminal convictions in accessing higher education, has opened.

The KickStart Scholarship Fund was established by the Irish Probation Service, and is supported by the Irish Prison Service.

The probation service has provided €100,000 in funding for the coming academic year, with the scholarship funding the applicant's full course of study.

The scheme’s development is being led by Maynooth University, working in partnership with DCU, Dundalk IT, and TU Shannon Midlands Midwest, Athlone Campus.

The scheme is open to new undergraduates who have applied to begin third-level education in September this year, as well as those who are currently third-level students, in one of four MEND Higher Education Institutions.

Eight scholarships are available in total - two for each MEND HEI this coming year.

These consist of one €5,000 per year scholarship for undergraduate study to a maximum of €20,000 over four years, or six years for a part-time course, and another scholarship of €1,250 for each year of undergraduate study to a maximum of €5,000 over four years for a full-time course.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the new initiative was about giving people "a second chance".

"We know how powerful education can be in terms of unlocking potential, building confidence and breaking down barriers and this new initiative is about ensuring equality of opportunity for those who may have made mistakes in the past but want to build a better life," she said.