Ireland ranks among highest for inter-generational educational disadvantage

Ireland ranks among the highest in the world for inter-generational educational disadvantage, international research shows.

While around 18% of those aged 25-44 who had not completed second-level in 2012, the figure is just over 30% among those whose parents did not reach Leaving Certificate themselves. In the EU, the only countries with higher non-completion rates for those with parents of similar education levels are Italy, Spain, England, Northern Ireland, Slovakia, and Greece.

An OECD report stresses the need for access to quality education to be assured, in order to facilitate social inclusion and mobility, and to improve socio-economic outcomes now and for future generations.

“This is particularly important among those with disadvantaged backgrounds, including those with low-educated parents and immigrant background,” it said.

The figures and commentary feature in Education at a Glance 2016, the annual comparison of key indicators across a range of areas related to education in the developed world.

The significant advantages of higher levels of education are once again highlighted, with Ireland having one of the biggest gaps between unemployment rates for those with varying qualification levels. The 5% unemployment level for 25-64-year-olds compares to nearly 15% for those with Leaving Certificate only, a gap that is around three times the equivalent average across 22 EU countries.

The negative effects of such statistics are flagged by the OECD, pointing out that disparities in labour market outcomes contribute to widening inequalities in society.

Such data and observations might also be used by either side of the looming debate about who should come up with the bigger share of any increased funding for third-level education — the State or students.

It may be argued that students will undoubtedly reap returns for investment through additional fees for a college degree. But the societal impact of not bridging the participation gap between those from advantaged background and others could have significant knock-on effects and costs for future governments.

As well as putting forward different options on whether to increase State or student contributions to the cost of running the third-level system, the recent Cassells report recommended a major increase in the rates of student grants and to widen thresholds for those who qualify.

Along with the greater likelihood of employment, rising with differing levels of higher education to postgraduate and doctoral levels, the earnings premium associated with better qualifications is higher here than in most other countries.

The average Irish adult with a bachelor’s degree earns over 60% more than a working person with no qualification higher than Leaving Certificate.

This compares to 40% in the EU, where third-level graduates in only Czech Republic, Hungary, Portugal, Slovakia, and Slovenia earn proportionately more than second-level graduates.

However, at less than 60%, the proportion of Irish third-level graduates who earn more than the amount earned by average workers is second-lowest of 35 countries for which the corresponding figure is 70%.

But the relative value of a higher education qualification is evident from the fact that very similar numbers of Irish adults with Leaving Certificate only and those who did not finish second-level — both in the 30%-40% range — earn over the average.


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