Ireland in ‘education relegation zone’

IRELAND’S failure to increase its spend on education, in line with the wealth generated by the Celtic Tiger, has raised strong criticism.

We spent just more per student in 2007 than the average developed country at primary, and 13% above average at second level, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

But the organisation’s latest publication on worldwide education statistics shows the €12,631 the Government spent for every third-level student, when research spending is included, was below the average in around 30 other developed countries.

The per-student figures across all levels of education are likely to be lower by now, however, because of rising pupil numbers and tightened budgets in the last two years.

When measured as a proportion of national wealth, Ireland’s education spend is 25th out of 28 OECD countries, as only the Czech Republic, Italy and Slovak Republic spent less. Our 4.7% of GDP spent on education compares to an OECD average of 5.7% and 5.3% across 19 EU countries. The figure was 5.2% in 1995, although it is higher than the 4.5% of GDP spent on education here in 2000.

Teachers’ Union of Ireland general secretary Peter MacMenamin said the data shows the country languishing in the relegation zone in a league table of education investment.

“It is important to highlight that these comparisons are already dated as the education system has been routinely asset-stripped by the Government over the last two years and Ireland would fare much worse in 2010,” he said.

The American Chamber of Commerce said the figures demonstrate the temptation to cut spending in education must be resisted.

“The higher-than-average 45% of 25 to 34 year-olds with a third-level qualification present a tremendous opportunity for Ireland to build a talented workforce capable of competing at the highest level to attract foreign investment. However these benefits will only be realised if education receives the necessary funding,” a spokesperson said.

Sinn Féin education spokesman Senator Pearse Doherty said the report highlights the Government is in no way serious about education and has presided over a sector which is in a funding crisis. “People pay taxes on the reasonable assumption that they will in turn be afforded with quality public services. The fact that Ireland ranks fourth last in terms of education spending and has the second highest class sizes in the EU is a kick in the face to taxpayers,” he said.

But Ireland is one of just eight countries where there is a difference of more than 30% between the proportion of 25 to 34-year-olds who finished second level and the equivalent proportion of those aged 55 to 64.

Despite improvements in school completion rates, the 85% of young Irish adults who have finished second level places Ireland 18th out of 35 countries and barely above the 82% average in 18 other EU states.


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