I Introduction

Economics and Higher Education Policy

Darragh Flannery and John Cullinan


In common with many countries the demand for, and supply of, higher education in the Republic of Ireland has grown rapidly in recent times. This expansion is mainly driven at an individual level by the positive impact that higher educational attainment has on labour market outcomes and personal lifestyles. From society’s viewpoint, enabling people to participate in higher education has broader economic and societal benefits, such as increased economic growth, higher levels of political stability and lower crime. Given this, Ireland continues to place higher education at the centre of strategies for future economic growth. This is

D. Flannery (*)

Department of Economics, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland J. Cullinan

School of Business & Economics, National University of Ireland, Galway, Galway, Ireland

© The Author(s) 2017

J. Cullinan, D. Flannery (eds.), Economic Insights on Higher Education Policy in Ireland, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-48553-9_1

emphasised in Ireland’s National Skills Strategy 2025, which states that “having a workforce with high-quality relevant skills is key to productivity and innovation and well-skilled people are accordingly central to the success of the economy” (Department of Education and Skills 2016, p. 69). Such thinking has meant that government intervention in the higher education sector is the norm in most developed economies, with state subsidisation commonplace.

However, the demand for higher education is complicated by a variety of socioeconomic, spatial, cultural and other barriers, which may result in undesirable inequalities in ‘accessibility’. This can lead to inequalities and inefficiencies in the composition of those in higher education and ultimately help perpetuate income and other socioeconomic disparities. At the same time, the quantity and quality of supply of higher education may be shaped by funding systems and labour market fluctuations. At a time of greater caution with regard to government and private spending, the burden of financing, as well as the role and value of higher education, is increasingly being questioned. Set in this complex context, this book presents research relating to higher education in order to provide evidence that helps support policy decision-making.1 It aims to provide an analysis of a selection of prominent issues within the higher education sector in Ireland and does so from an economic viewpoint, describing the relevant theory and analysing these topics empirically. The ‘economic way of thinking’ is not central in the debate surrounding policymaking within the Irish higher education sector and it is hoped that the collection of research presented within this book, by providing economic insights on higher education policy, is a step towards bridging this divide.

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