A Reflection on the Irish Education System (1965-2010)

A Reflection on the Irish Education System (1965-2010)

In one of the first blogs posted here, I looked at the history of Ireland’s higher education sector, starting from the establishment of Trinity College Dublin in 1592.

There is no doubt that the rapid expansion of the third level education did not begin until the 1960s, when the founding of institutes of technology (IoTs) significantly increased the number of HEIs in the country. Meanwhile, Ireland has seen its HEIs evolve from being concentrated in a few large cities to being dispersed throughout the country. In 1960, a total of 11 institutions were situated within five Irish counties, while within the next two decades, the number of HEIs more than doubled to 24, spanning across 12 counties.

Whilst there is much interest in the expansion of the higher education sector – as tertiary or equivalent education attainment level is a key factor of fostering productivity, innovation and competitiveness – this blog examines the education sector in Ireland as a whole since the 1960s. In particular, it is interesting to know if there are different growth patterns shown by first, second and third level education respectively.

Figure 1: Persons in full-time education by level (1965/66=100)

image (16)

Source: Department of Education and Skills.

As Figure 1 shows, the number of students in first level education has been relatively constant during the last five decades, with slight declines during 1995/96 and 2005/06. The number of students in second level education has been increasing since 1965/66 and peaked in 1995/96, after which year the number decreased sharply. Nevertheless, the third level sector is the one with persistent increase of the number of students, which took off at a much faster pace since 1995/96. A possible explanation could be the introduction of the Free Fees Initiative in Ireland at that time, under the terms of which the Irish Exchequer will pay tuition fees to the University on behalf of students registered for the first time on qualifying, full-time, undergraduate degree programmes.

Figure 2: Relative size of first, second and third level education (%)

image (17)

Source: Department of Education and Skills.

Figure 2 shows how the size of second level students compares to that of first level students and how the size of third level students compares to that of second level students. It should be noted that the figures here do not directly correspond to the entry rates into second level or third level studies in the years, though they strongly imply that information.

Although entry rate into third level in Ireland has been improving significantly and is now over 40 per cent, that number was relatively stable between 1965/66 and 1985/86. More importantly, the relative size of second level students to that of first level students has been dropping since 2000/01 after 35 years of increase. In 2000/01 the number of second level students was nearly 80 per cent of that of first level students, while that share was just under 70 per cent in 2010/11.

What the above findings suggest is that, Ireland actually does well in getting more second level students into third level, but it has been facing some difficulties in getting more first level students into second level.

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