Irish Independent - - News - John Wal­she:

Equal­ity loses out as money talks in ed­u­ca­tion

THE re­al­ity of our twotier ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is sharply ex­posed in a re­port out to­day which con­firms that money talks when it comes to choos­ing schools and get­ting high ‘points’ for col­lege. It con­firms that the dream of equal op­por­tu­nity for all is still a long way off.

The study from the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Author­ity (HEA) shows that the big­gest pro­por­tion of stu­dents en­ter­ing col­lege with high CAO ‘points’ comes from fee-pay­ing sec­ondary schools. They are also less likely to drop out of col­lege than those with low points.

More than half of the stu­dents in fee-pay­ing schools are from the pro­fes­sional and man­age­rial classes. Few of them want to study pri­mary teach­ing af­ter their Leav­ing Cert.

A favourite des­ti­na­tion is the In­sti­tute of Art, De­sign and Tech­nol­ogy (IADT) in Dún Laoghaire, where a quar­ter of the stu­dent in­take comes di­rectly from fee-pay­ing schools – the high­est per­cent­age in the coun­try. The In­sti­tute is big into the me­dia, dig­i­tal, de­sign and fash­ion ar­eas.

Just be­hind it in terms of per­cent­ages from the fee-pay­ing schools are Trin­ity and UCD. Next up is the Na­tional Col­lege of Art and De­sign, fol­lowed by DIT, which is on tar­get to form part of the coun­try’s first tech­no­log­i­cal univer­sity be­fore the end of the year.

The fig­ures for the Royal Col­lege of Sur­geons are un­avail­able but it’s not too hard to guess where the col­lege gets most of its Ir­ish stu­dent in­take from.

Ge­og­ra­phy, of course, plays a big part in the col­lege des­ti­na­tion of these stu­dents as most fee-pay­ing schools are in the Dublin area.

But for the most part, fee-pay­ing stu­dents by­pass the in­sti­tutes of tech­nol­ogy in Blan­chard­stown and Tal­laght (only 3.7 pc and 7.7 pc re­spec­tively).

By con­trast, the in­sti­tutes with the high­est pro­por­tions of stu­dents from dis­ad­van­taged schools are Let­terkenny IT (28.4 pc), IT Tal­laght (22.9 pc), IT Blan­chard­stown (20.8 pc) and IT Tralee (20.7 pc).

As HEA chief ex­ec­u­tive Dr Gra­ham Love re­marked: “We have an ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem that is com­mit­ted to ac­cess and to equal­ity but it is still clear that a stu­dent from a fi­nan­cially bet­ter-off back­ground and who may have been able to at­tend a fee-pay­ing school has an ad­van­tage over those from less well-off back­grounds.”

So how do we level the play­ing field? The De­liv­er­ing Equal­ity of Op­por­tu­nity in Schools (Deis) scheme was in­tro­duced in 2005 to tackle ed­u­ca­tional disad­van­tage.

Stud­ies have shown it has im­proved lit­er­acy and numer­acy lev­els and re­duced ab­sen­teeism rates in schools. But too few dis­ad­van­taged stu­dents are go­ing into higher ed­u­ca­tion and, more im­por­tant, fin­ish­ing their cour­ses.

Over­all, stu­dents from Deis schools are twice as likely to fail to progress than stu­dents who had at­tended fee-pay­ing schools.

The lat­est HEA study shows that a rel­a­tively high pro­por­tion of stu­dents en­ter­ing with lower points come from Deis schools. They tend to go to in­sti­tutes of tech­nol­ogy, which have higher non-pro­gres­sion rates than the uni­ver­si­ties.

The term ‘non-pro­gres­sion’ mainly cov­ers what used to be known as drop-outs but also in­cludes those who quit col­lege tem­po­rar­ily in the hope of com­ing back at a later date, and those who change cour­ses.

The over­all non-pro­gres­sion rate for all higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions com­bined was 14pc for those who en­rolled in 2014-15, but this fig­ure masks huge vari­a­tions. They range from 27pc for stu­dents on level six (higher cer­tifi­cate) cour­ses in the in­sti­tutes of tech­nol­ogy to 10pc for the uni­ver­si­ties.

But it is the stu­dents with the lower en­try points who are most at risk of not pro­gress­ing. Two out of ev­ery five stu­dents who en­tered with be­tween 206 and 250 points did not progress into a sec­ond year.

Males are more likely not to make progress than fe­males, es­pe­cially on level six and level seven (or­di­nary de­gree) cour­ses in the in­sti­tutes.

DR Joseph Ryan, CEO of the Tech­no­log­i­cal Higher Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, said it is about to un­der­take a more de­tailed study of stu­dent re­ten­tion. He said: “We hope to de­liver in­sights around what sup­ports and in­ter­ven­tions learn­ers re­quire in or­der to progress through their en­tire pro­gramme of higher-level ed­u­ca­tion.

“Prior ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment, fam­ily con­text and so­cio-eco­nomic pro­file are all fun­da­men­tal el­e­ments in this picture, and a greater un­der­stand­ing can as­sist in en­sur­ing that re­sources are tar­geted where they are most needed.”

To­day’s re­port shows that the typ­i­cal stu­dent most likely to progress into sec­ond year will be a fe­male study­ing ed­u­ca­tion or health­care in a univer­sity or col­lege, with rel­a­tively high Leav­ing Cert points. The stu­dent least likely to progress will be a male, with rel­a­tively low Leav­ing Cert points, study­ing a level six or level seven course at an In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in com­puter science, con­struc­tion or engi­neer­ing.

The re­port prompts a num­ber of ques­tions, es­pe­cially given the high at­tri­tion rates from some cour­ses where stu­dents’ as­pi­ra­tions are not matched by their abil­i­ties.

In an era of mass higher ed­u­ca­tion, a va­ri­ety of teach­ing and learn­ing styles is needed.

The new ap­pren­tice­ship model, which com­bines work and study, is more suited to some, and Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Richard Bru­ton wants it rolled out in a broader range of dis­ci­plines as soon as pos­si­ble.

But it is not the only so­lu­tion to the prob­lems of drop-out and non-pro­gres­sion.

Mr Bru­ton’s pre­de­ces­sors, Jan O’Sullivan and Ruairí Quinn, pushed for a new points sys­tem which would re­ward those tak­ing higher level pa­pers in their Leav­ing. They also wanted broader en­try cour­ses in first year in col­lege, thus pre­vent­ing stu­dents from hav­ing to de­cide, at an early stage, what spe­cial­ism they should take.

These re­forms are be­ing in­tro­duced and we should see the ben­e­fits from now on.

Fig­ures are one thing but they can­not high­light the per­sonal sto­ries and in­sights that lie be­hind the sta­tis­tics – where do these stu­dents go, how many of them change course early on and con­tinue to com­plete their higher ed­u­ca­tion jour­ney, or how many ac­tu­ally en­ter em­ploy­ment and con­tinue to con­trib­ute to the lo­cal econ­omy?

Some may quit for pos­i­tive rea­sons but for many drop­ping out of col­lege can be a per­sonal tragedy.

Dr Paul Fox from Wex­ford is thrown into the air by class mates celebrating their fi­nal medicine re­sults at the Royal Col­lege of Sur­geons yes­ter­day

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