College life offers challenge but most satisfied

More than one-third of Irish third-level students feel like “detached consumers” in terms of their education.

The finding is contained in sixth Eurostudent study into how students experience university life.

More than 20,000 students attending third-level colleges were surveyed as part of the report.

The findings show that, while 42% of students feel like they are partners in their education, almost the same amount (36%) feel like “detached consumers”.

Overall, there were high levels of overall student satisfaction with the quality of teaching, the timetabling of studies and the facilities of the institution.

Accommodation was the largest single expenditure, accounting for over 40% of all expenditure for students. The average spend on accommodation was €365.

More than one-third of the total student population said they are experiencing serious financial problems, and the degree to which they are experiencing this appears to be related to their age.

Older students appear to be more likely to experience financial difficulties, with 42% of students over the age of 24 saying that this is the case for them.

Publishing the report, minister of state for higher education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said the findings were important markers to inform policy decisions.

“Having access to high-quality data, and hearing more from students on their experience of higher education is critical to inform sound policy decisions to ensure we are doing the right things for our student cohort,” she said. “This report gives us a student perspective or ‘voice’ which is of critical importance.

“This represents a very useful study into the social dimension of student life, and it will inform what measures we can take to ensure student success, which has so many dependencies.”

The details emerge as Education Minister Richard Bruton announces a review today into the quality and level of career guidance at schools and colleges.

He wants a report within six months to evaluate current provision, and to suggesting ways to improve services for existing students and adults considering a return to education or career changes.

As well as considering views of those working and studying at second-level, further education, and third-level settings, he wants suggestions about how business and industry might engage more in providing students with careers information.

The Government has approved restoration across the last two budgets of ringfenced guidance counselling in second-level schools, where counsellors role includes pastoral supports as well as career guidance.

However, the service is patchy across those 700-plus schools, as austerity measures that absorbed guidance counselling into their overall teaching allocations meant many had little or no dedicated timetabling of these services.

Several research reports based on work with students have also highlighted some shortcomings in guidance provision, as inadequate time was provided to assisting them on subject choices or to guidance around careers and college courses.

Researchers are being sought to undertake this review, under direction of a steering group chaired by Tom Collins, former education professor at Maynooth University and chairman of the Dublin and Blanchardstown institutes of technology.

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