Although international studies show Ireland has one of the best-educated populations, particularly in younger adult age brackets, EU analysis suggests the figures could hide strong social or other disparities when the background of those with college degrees is considered.
Only five of the 27 other EU countries — Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, and Spain — have a higher proportion of adults with poorly-educated parents who had a low level of education than the 40% figure in Ireland.
However, the 28% of people who are highly-educated but whose parents had low education levels (equivalent of the Junior Certificate or lower) is also one of the highest in the EU, where the average was just 18%.
The EU’s statistical office Eurostat looked at the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage by measuring education levels of people aged 25 to 59 and comparing them to those of their parents.
The data comes from an EU survey on income and living conditions that also looked at other factors impacting on risk of poverty or social exclusion.
Not surprisingly, 79% of Irish people with highly-educated parents have a high education (third-level or higher) themselves, compared to an EU average of 63%, making this country second only to Romania in this measurement.
The figures highlight the importance, as pointed out in Irish and international research, of experiences in a home of higher levels of education in determining children’s college participation.
But they also suggest more needs to be done to improve educational opportunities for people from backgrounds of disadvantage, which is strongly linked to educational attainment.
The 52% of highly-educated Irish adults whose parents had a medium education (Leaving Certificate or further education) compares favourably to a 33% EU average, for example.
But almost one-in-five from a similar background had a low level of education themselves, more than double the 8% figure across the 28 EU countries.
Meanwhile, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland has said lecturers at institutes of technology have less time to provide academic support because of an 8% cut in their numbers in the past five years, while student numbers have gone up by 17%.
General secretary John MacGabhann said having 385 fewer lecturers to teach 11,400 more students means lectures are often overcrowded and the issues will particularly impact on college completion rates.
“While increase student participation at third-level is always a positive, we are concerned by the severe effects that cutbacks are having on the quality of educational experience for students,” he said.