The Higher Education Landscape

Institutional Background and Stylised Facts

Third-level (higher) education in Ireland is made up of three principal sectors: the university, technological and colleges of education sectors, all of which are substantially funded by the state. In addition, there are also a small number of independent private colleges. In total there are seven universities, which are autonomous and self-governing, that offer degree programmes at bachelor, masters and doctorate level. The technological sector includes 14 institutes of technology (ITs) that provide programmes of education and training in areas such as business, science, engineering, linguistics and music, mainly to certificate, diploma and degree levels. Furthermore, there are four colleges of education that focus on training teachers, while there are also two other colleges, the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), which offer specialist third-level degree qualifications. Higher education qualifications in Ireland follow the Bologna Process and European Qualifications Framework. The Higher Education Authority (HEA) is the statutory planning and policy development body for higher education and research in Ireland. The HEA has wide advisory powers throughout the whole of the third-level education sector. In addition, it is the funding authority for the universities, ITs and other non-private institutions. However, it is important to note that while the HEA distributes funds in the sector it is the Department of Education and Skills, in conjunction with the Department of Finance, which ultimately decides on the level of funding to be distributed. The specific HEA-affiliated institutions that are considered and referenced throughout this book are listed in the Appendix to this chapter.

In 2014, 51% of those in full-time undergraduate higher education in Ireland were in the university sector, 43% were in ITs, with the remaining 6% in other colleges (HEA 2015c). The same breakdown for fulltime postgraduate students shows a distribution of 80%, 14% and 6% across the same three types of higher education institution (HEI). There is also considerable variation in the fields of study delivered across the different institutions, with 82% of undergraduates studying business, social sciences, humanities, science or health-related subjects in universities, compared to 57% studying these topics in ITs. The latter have more of a focus upon service, engineering and ICT-related courses, with these making up 39% of undergraduate students in ITs but only 13% in universities.

Entrance to HEIs in Ireland is via a competitive entry system based mainly on grades achieved in the Leaving Certificate examinations at the end of second-level schooling. These grades are converted into a points score, generally referred to as Central Applications Office (CAO) points, with the number of points an individual receives helping to determine the type of course they can pursue—see Chap. 5 of this book and Denny (2014) for more details of the system. Applications for entry to undergraduate courses are processed by the CAO, with the participating institutions allocating places to students with the highest CAO points who wish to take that course, subject to HEI-imposed limits on course size. As the number of students applying for places generally exceeds the supply, the system is typified by excess demand. As Denny (2014) notes, this implies that there is no spare capacity in the system.

Participation in higher education has grown significantly over the past 20 years in Ireland with full-time student numbers in third-level education increasing from 115,696 in 1999/2000 to 173,649 in 2014/15 (Department of Education and Skills 2015), and these numbers are expected to reach over 200,000 by the year 2030 (Mc Guinness et al. 2012). This is reflected in Table 1.1, which shows the educational attainment of the Irish population in 2000, 2005 and 2014 relative to some selected countries within the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Table 1.1 Percentage of adults aged 25-64 with tertiary education as the highest level attained for selected OECD countries over time

Country

2000

2005

2014

Australia

27

32

42

Belgium

27

31

37

Finland

33

35

42

France

22

25

32

Germany

23

25

27

Greece

18

21

28

Ireland

22

29

41

Korea

24

32

45

Mexico

15

15

19

Spain

23

29

35

Sweden

30

30

39

United Kingdom

26

30

42

United States

36

39

44

OECD average

22

26

34

EU21 average

20

24

32

Source: Created by authors using data from OECD (2015)

The data shows that from 2000 to 2014 the proportion of 25-64-year- olds with a third-level education qualification in Ireland increased from 22% to 41%. From having a proportion corresponding exactly to the OECD average and slightly above the EU21 average in the year 2000, Ireland is now well above both respective averages. Specifically, the scale of third-level educational attainment in Ireland is now close to the United Kingdom (UK), United States (US), Australia and Finland, while above countries such as France, Germany, Spain and Belgium. The changes in the distribution of educational attainment across the adult population in this time period are also reflected in the change in upper secondary graduation rates. This is measured by graduation numbers relative to the population of those at the typical graduation age, which increased in Ireland from 86% to over 98% from 2005 to 2013 (OECD 2015). This compares to 85% on average for the OECD countries in 2013.

However, behind these striking participation numbers are persistent inequalities in the social class or socioeconomic composition of those in higher education. OECD (2014) shows that in Ireland, a person whose parents have upper secondary education as their highest level of education is twice as likely to participate in tertiary education2 as someone whose parents have a below upper secondary education. Furthermore, a person whose parents have tertiary education is 3.3 times more likely to participate in tertiary education as someone whose parents have below upper secondary education. The latter figure compares somewhat favourably to the OECD average of 4.5 but still demonstrates a steep socioeconomic gradient in higher education participation. The recent National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-2019 (HEA 2015a) also highlights this issue, noting that participation of those from the semi-skilled and unskilled socioeconomic groups is at 26%, while there is practically full participation by those from the higher professional socioeconomic group.

The Irish State provides financial aid and assistance to help alleviate potential inequalities in accessing higher education related to income or geographic factors. Students who meet certain criteria based on parental income levels and geographic distance from their chosen HEI may receive a student maintenance grant throughout their time in higher education. The student contribution fee of the student may also be subsidised, either fully or partially, again dependent on parental income. The geographic component of these grants is that students who satisfy an income-related means test receive a full or partial maintenance grant, depending on whether they live more or less than 45 kilometres (kms) from the HEI they wish to attend. It is notable that this distance threshold was 24 kms until the 2011/12 academic year. In 2013, 46% of new entrants to higher education in Ireland received some manner of financial assistance (HEA 2015b). In fact, 42% received complete subsidisation of the student contribution fee, while 32% of new entrants received a combination of full maintenance grant and complete subsidisation of the student contribution fee (HEA 2015c).

Ireland also has a number of so-called access programmes that explicitly target socioeconomically disadvantaged and other individuals with a view to increasing participation in higher education for those from certain groups. For example, the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) is a national scheme that offers places on reduced CAO points and extra college support to school leavers from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. A range of financial, social and cultural indicators such as family income are considered in selecting those that qualify for this scheme (HEAR 2014).3 The Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) is a similar scheme but aimed specifically at school leavers who have been educationally impacted as a result of a disability. Specifically, DARE offers reduced points places to school leavers who as a result of having a disability have experienced additional educational challenges in second- level education (DARE 2014). There is also a Delivery of Equality of Opportunity In Schools (DEIS) system where certain second-level schools that are deemed to be disadvantaged may access additional resources such as extra learning support for teachers and a home-to-community liaison programme (Department of Education and Science 2005).

 
Source
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >