Localism, Distance and Traces of Social Class

This section presents a descriptive overview of school to third-level transitions using a geographical perspective and cluster analysis and is based on recently published school-level data on student flows to HEIs between 2010 and 2014. This ‘feeder-schools’ dataset contains information on the total number of students from almost every secondary school in Ireland who accepted a place at each of 34 HEIs. As has been documented by Clancy (1995, 2001), Irish higher education is heavily influenced by geography, with students preferring nearer institutions, and with geographically more remote areas being at a significant disadvantage. But how do HEIs differ in the way distance affects their recruitment? Which HEIs have a greater national reach, and which are more local? Do the metropolitan universities, for instance, have a national market to an extent that regional universities do not?

We can get an insight into these questions from the feeder-schools data by examining how HEIs differ in the distances ‘recruited’ students travel, compared with the whole population of students who go to third-level. Because of the general population distribution, HEIs in the Dublin area are closer to the average student than HEIs elsewhere, and consequently the average student’s distance will be lower, ceteris paribus. Table 3.1 lists for each institution the average distance to all students, to recruited students, and the ratio of these figures. This ratio is thus a measure of the extent to which the HEI recruits equally from the pool of all students, or disproportionately from local students. It will be 1 where distance has no effect on recruitment and will be lower the more local the HEI’s recruitment is.

As we see in Table 3.1, there is a very high amount of variation in the relationship between distance and recruitment. The least local institutions are specialised, particularly teacher-training colleges (6 of the top 7), the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) (medical school) and the Northern Ireland (NI) universities.3 The main universities fall in the middle, with NUI Galway (NUIG) the least local, University of Limerick (UL) and the Dublin institutions in a narrow range (56% to 50%), and University College Cork (UCC) a remarkably local outlier at 30%. The

Table 3.1 Student travel distances by higher education institution

HEI

Rank

Distance all students (kms)

Distance

recruited

students

(kms)

Ratio

recruited/all

Teacher Training Colleges

Church of Ireland College of Education

1

136.57

125.81

0.92

Marino Institute of Education

2

142.85

114.95

0.80

St. Patrick's College

3

135.43

106.62

0.79

St. Angela's College

4

226.57

160.32

0.71

Mater Dei Institute of Education

5

135.09

93.24

0.69

Froebel College of Education

7

143.30

90.56

0.63

Mary Immaculate College Northern Ireland

17

173.19

86.04

0.50

Queen's University Belfast

6

272.17

173.67

0.64

Ulster University Universities

9

283.44

171.12

0.60

NUI Galway

8

187.51

113.27

0.60

University of Limerick

11

169.66

95.66

0.56

University College Dublin

12

143.73

80.95

0.56

Maynooth University

13

134.11

72.69

0.54

Dublin City University

14

139.49

72.25

0.52

Trinity College Dublin

16

134.47

67.52

0.50

University College Cork Other

28

224.37

67.19

0.30

Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

10

134.01

80.07

0.60

Institute of Art Design and Technology

23

145.04

58.30

0.40

National College of Art and Design

24

133.20

52.00

0.39

National College of Ireland

33

135.05

27.38

0.20

ITs

Galway-Mayo IT

15

184.05

94.20

0.51

Athlone IT

18

141.05

68.54

0.49

Carlow IT

19

146.31

70.52

0.48

Tipperary Institute

20

173.68

83.48

0.48

{continued)

Table 3.1 (continued)

HEI

Rank

Distance all students (kms)

Distance

recruited

students

(kms)

Ratio

recruited/all

IT Sligo

21

221.91

91.12

0.41

Limerick IT

22

171.65

70.34

0.41

Waterford IT

25

185.96

71.01

0.38

Dublin IT

26

134.41

50.44

0.38

IT Tralee

27

251.72

84.85

0.34

Dundalk IT

29

192.11

56.11

0.29

Letterkenny IT

30

293.76

85.49

0.29

Cork IT

31

225.51

60.37

0.27

IT Blanchardstown

32

137.16

34.44

0.25

IT Tallaght

34

134.90

21.26

0.16

Source: Analysis of feeder schools and author-derived data

ITs fall largely in the lower half, typically around 40%, but with some displaying extremely local catchments (particularly IT Tallaght and IT Blanchardstown in west Dublin, along with the private-sector National College of Ireland (NCI)). Among the universities, the idea that the two older Dublin universities (Trinity College Dublin [TCD] and University College Dublin [UCD]) serve a more national catchment than the others is not supported, with NUIG having a greater relative reach than UCD (UL is similar to UCD), and TCD being sixth of seven (i.e. the second most local). However, UCC has a remarkably strong regional effect, recruiting very little outside its immediate hinterland but dominating within it.

A further insight into the influence of proximity on choice of third-level institution can be had from Fig. 3.1, which maps the recruitment of the four universities in or near Dublin. Dublin City University (DCU), UCD and TCD are a small number of kilometres (kms) apart, and Maynooth University (MU) is about 25 kms west of central Dublin. Nonetheless there is a strong tendency for students to pick the nearest HEI. While TCD and UCD both recruit very strongly in south Dublin, UCD is much stronger in the east (Blackrock, Dun Laoghaire) and TCD in the area due south. It is almost as if there is an impediment on going to TCD when that would involve passing UCD on the bus every day. Similarly,

Dublin-based school leaver recruitment patterns for selected universities. Source

Fig. 3.1 Dublin-based school leaver recruitment patterns for selected universities. Source: Analysis of feeder schools data

DCU (in the northern suburbs) captures local students, and also those in the north county, and MU recruits predominantly in the west.

We can take a second cut at the question of where schools send their students, and where institutions recruit, by using cluster analysis. We take the school-by-institution matrix, containing for each school the amount of its total third-level cohort that it sends to each HEI, and then run two cluster analyses on it, first clustering institutions by their recruitment patterns, and then schools by their destinations.4

First, we cluster HEIs by the proportion of their intake they recruit from each school. Figure 3.2 shows the resulting ‘dendrogram’,5 which illustrates the pattern by which the cluster analysis progressively groups the institutions. TCD and UCD form the closest pair, with similar very tight local clustering in Cork, Limerick and Galway cities. The main structure is clearly geographic, with a Dublin cluster, a small northern cluster, a southern cluster and a northwestern cluster (with a few outliers such as RCSI, Dundalk IT and the Church of Ireland College). Donegal’s Letterkenny IT shows up as isolated, closer to the NI institutions than anything in the South. Within the four main clusters there is more geographic structure: Dublin splits into north/west versus centre/south clusters; the northwestern cluster into Sligo versus Galway; the south into Kerry versus Cork versus Limerick versus southeastern. Geography seems to trump institution type frequently, with ITs being clustered with universities in the same location (UCC, Cork IT; NUIG, Galway-Mayo IT; UL, Limerick IT; MU, Blanchardstown IT; DCU, Dublin IT). It

Clustering institutions by intake. Source

Fig. 3.2 Clustering institutions by intake. Source: Analysis of feeder schools data is difficult to tell whether the close clustering of three teacher-training colleges in north Dublin city (St Patrick’s, Mater Dei Institute, Marino Institute) is due to their geographical or their functional proximity.

Using the same data matrix we can also cluster schools according to the proportional destinations of their third-level cohort. There are too many schools to display in a dendrogram, so they are displayed in a map (see Fig. 3.3) with 12 clusters distinguished. These also display strong geographical features, with schools in the same area tending to fall in the same cluster, as implicitly a small mix of institutions dominates in each area. Interesting, Dublin is shared between three clusters, southeast, west and north. Most of the other clusters are relatively distinct and centred on cities or towns with third-level institutions. There is some evidence of a ‘doughnut’ cluster,6 relatively remote from Dublin but still centred on it, predominantly in the north midlands and Wicklow.

Clustering schools by destinations. Source

Fig. 3.3 Clustering schools by destinations. Source: Analysis of feeder schools data

It is also important to acknowledge that there is some subtle evidence here of features other than geography at play. The doughnut cluster has a small number of even more dispersed members, in Limerick, Tipperary and even Dingle in west Kerry. These schools clearly have destination patterns unlike their neighbours and more like those in the Dublin hinterlands. Inspection shows that a number of these are fee-charging boarding schools, whose pupils’ residence is not local to the school. In Dublin, there is also a certain amount of geographical overlap in the clusters. Some members of the southeast cluster are based in north Dublin city and the northern suburbs. Again, inspection shows these also to be feecharging schools, located in pockets of affluence comparable to the very substantial concentration of affluence in southeast Dublin.

The effects of affluence and deprivation are somewhat masked by the geographical focus, since with the exception of southeast Dublin and west Dublin, the regions marked out by the clusters contain a broad range of socioeconomic advantage and disadvantage. The west Dublin cluster is relatively deprived and has only 27% of the third-level cohort going to university or teacher training and 67% going to the IT sector (40% to IT Tallaght and 16% to Dublin IT). The southeast Dublin cluster is based in the largest and most distinct concentration of affluence in the country, with 63% of the third-level cohort going to university or teachertraining, a rate only exceeded in the Cork cluster.7

Whether the school is private (i.e. fee-charging) is another important factor. As we have seen, fee-charging schools outside Dublin tend to be more Dublin-focused than their neighbours, and fee-charging schools in north Dublin are more like schools in southeast Dublin. The distribution of fee-charging schools is very uneven: 36 of the 55 fee-charging schools are in Dublin city or county. Similarly, the third-level choices of fee-paying students are strongly patterned: of UCD’s student body, 28% come from fee-charging schools, while in TCD the figure is 31.5% (compared to an overall rate of 14.5%). In no other university does the figure exceed 10%, and it goes as low as 4%. Some of this is due to the predominant location of such schools in south Dublin, but some must also reflect socially patterned preferences, if only to explain why TCD’s rate exceeds UCD’s.

Thus, overall the importance of location is confirmed in this analysis, with the proximity of HEIs having a marked effect, sometimes on a regional scale, but within Dublin also on a quite local scale. The broad geographic view tends to obscure the effects of social class to some extent, but some signs show through, particularly regarding the special position of fee-charging schools.

 
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