About This Book

Within this setting, this book brings together a number of economic studies relevant to the higher education sector with the aim of providing evidence that supports policy decision-making. As stated earlier, it aims to provide an analysis of a selection of prominent issues within the sector in Ireland both from a theoretical and empirical viewpoint. We do so under the three broad headings of ‘Participation & Preferences, ‘Progression & Outcomes', and ‘Benefits & Financing, with a focus predominately on issues related to undergraduate rather than postgraduate education. Each chapter within these broad headings presents a relatively non-technical analysis of the specific topic of interest, making it accessible to a wider audience. In doing so, it aims to provide an important addition to our knowledge and understanding of the economics of higher education in Ireland and will serve as a useful and up-to-date resource for policymakers, researchers, academics and students, across a range of disciplines, both in Ireland and internationally.

It should be noted, however, that there are a number of issues that are not specifically examined in this book but that are also important for higher education policy in Ireland. These include, but are not limited to, the internationalisation of higher education, participation and outcomes in postgraduate (masters and PhD) education, as well as the performance and efficiency of Irish HEIs in an international context. Other potentially interesting topics include analysing the interplay between higher education and mental health, the potential role of behavioural economics for higher education policy, the economic spillover effects of higher education and the contribution of higher education to the knowledge economy. Furthermore, the exploration of parental and student attitudes to higher education financing and the application of economic methodologies to explore pedagogical issues within higher education would be valuable from a policy and practitioner viewpoint. The post-secondary vocational education sector in Ireland is also an area that would likely benefit from greater economic analysis. The reasons for not including analyses of such topics here include space constraints, data constraints,5 as well as a lack of robust economic studies on most of these issues. Indeed, they are likely to prove to be fruitful areas for economics research in the future. Nonetheless, despite these omissions, this book represents the first time that a broad range of economics studies of relevance to higher education policy in Ireland have been brought together in a single resource.

While each of the chapters is a relatively independent piece and can therefore be read separately, they are also unified by their common relevance to higher education policy in Ireland. Following this introductory chapter, the next three chapters examine issues relating to Participation & Preferences. Within the context of a strong socioeconomic gradient in higher education participation, in Chap. 2 Kevin Denny and Darragh Flannery investigate the impact of socioeconomic factors on both the decision to participate in higher education and on the type of higher education an individual pursues. They also present estimates of the main determinants of upper secondary exam performance in Ireland. In Chap. 3, John Cullinan and Brendan Halpin consider the spatial economics of higher education participation, focussing on a range of spatial factors that impact the choices of school leavers. They illustrate important school-to-higher-education-transition patterns and also utilise geographic information systems (GIS) techniques to identify the extent of inequalities in geographic accessibility to higher education. The implications of these inequalities for higher education participation decisions are also discussed. Placing an emphasis on the student perspective in Chap. 4, Sharon Walsh and John Cullinan focus specifically on student preferences for HEIs and what factors influence them in their choice of HEI. The approach is two-fold with the importance and correlates of peer, sibling and parental influences on choices first examined. Findings from a discrete choice experiment examining student preferences for HEIs are then discussed.

The next three chapters, constituting the Progression & Outcomes section, are motivated by an aim to examine the factors that impact performance within higher education and to also explore potential mismatch between the sector and the needs of the labour market. Accordingly, in Chap. 5 Selina McCoy and Delma Byrne investigate how Irish HEIs compare in their student retention patterns when controlling for a range of student characteristics such as prior academic performance. Patricia McMullin focuses specifically on those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in Chap. 6 and presents an overview of the importance of access programmes in Irish higher education. This includes an evaluation of how the ‘New ERA’ access programme at University College Dublin impacted upon the first-year and final-year academic outcomes of participants in the programme. Chapter 7 moves away from outcomes within higher education itself, where Seamus McGuinness, Ruth O’Shaughnessy and Konstantinos Pouliakas explore the topic of overeducation in the Irish labour market. The chapter specifically considers the impact of overeducation on earnings within the Irish labour market, as well as the extent to which overeducation can be explained in terms of factors such as human capital effects, job conditions/requirements, preferences, or the information held at the time of recruitment.

The final three chapters of the book fall under the Benefits & Financing heading and aim to provide insights into the economic benefits of investing in higher education, as well as the economics of higher education financing. Chapter 8 concentrates on the former with Qiantao Zhang, Charles Larkin and Brian Lucey adopting a Keynesian multiplier approach in estimating the broad economic impact of Irish HEIs. This also involves a close examination of the economic impact of HEIs at a regional level. Chapter 9 by Darragh Flannery and Cathal O’Donoghue uses a micro-based approach to present estimates of the net private, public and non-pecuniary returns to third-level education in Ireland. While the private returns to higher education have featured heavily in previous literature in the area, this study contributes to the literature by incorporating the influence of the tax/benefit system and by exploring how happiness and health indicators vary by level of education. Finally in Chap. 10, Darragh Flannery, Aedin Doris and Bruce Chapman analyse the much debated topic of higher education financing. This chapter first discusses the main arguments around state and student funding systems and the results of two separate ex-ante empirical analyses that examine the introduction of several alternative student financing systems are then presented. The focus is on the repayment patterns of graduates within these systems, but distributional outcomes are also considered.

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