The number of students beginning higher-level college degrees has jumped by over 10,000 in a decade, figures from the Higher Education Authority (HEA) show.
But the 40% jump to 35,248 — reflecting a major increase in overall numbers going to third-level — masks inequalities that are also evident in 2014 feeder schools information published in today’s Irish Examiner.
Only 10 of the 29 schools that sent most students to University College Dublin, the country’s biggest third-level college, are in the free education scheme, with the rest either fee-paying schools or private institutions. These private and fee-charging schools are also prominent in some other counties, but particularly in Dublin where differences in college attendance rates between areas within the capital have previously been highlighted.
The HEA analysis of the numbers taking up college courses this autumn shows that the total places filled are up 1.8% on last year to 47,000. But within that figure, the numbers who began honours (level 8) degrees is up almost 4% to 35,248 since last year, a figure that was just under 25,000 in autumn 2005.
Conversely, colleges filled 3.6% fewer places on certificate and ordinary degree (level 6 and 7, respectively) programmes, which have accepted 11,752 students.
For the first time since 2008, universities have registered more first-year students than institutes of technology, accounting for 46% of all places accepted, compared to the 14 IoTs’ 45%, with teacher-training colleges and smaller institutions making up the rest.
The data based on Central Applications Office (CAO) returns give an indication of which courses are being filled, ahead of preliminary information from colleges early next year.
The HEA said there is very little change in the types of courses students have started, with slight increases in the numbers on level 8 business, law and construction degrees. However, this may reflect college allocations of spaces, rather than necessarily reflecting increased student demand for such courses.
The number of places filled on programmes at the colleges of education is up from 1,872 to 2,046, making up 4.4% of all places accepted through the CAO this year.
The overall increase in student numbers reverses a very slight drop last year, which was the first since before 2005. Despite reduced public funding and significant losses of staff, colleges in the CAO system have seen overall places accepted jump from 38,173 in 2005 to 47,000 this year, a rise of almost one-quarter.
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