A report from the Oireachtas body on access and outcomes in third-level education indicates that the two highest-ranking universities in the Republic, Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and University College Dublin (UCD), have nearly twice the national average of undergraduate students from affluent backgrounds compared to other third-level institutions. 

According to the study, 10% of undergraduate students in the Republic are from disadvantaged areas. For third-level colleges to be truly reflective of the general population then the percentage of undergraduate students from disadvantaged areas should be between 15% and 16%. 

Despite undergraduate students living in affluent areas in the Republic only representing 15%-16% of the population they generally tend to occupy 18% of all undergraduates with the percentage reaching 36% for TCD and UCD. A stark comparison can be made as the Oireachtas Parliamentary Budget Office reported that in 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 only 5%-6% of students from disadvantaged areas attended college at TCD and UCD.   

The study further demonstrated that those graduates from disadvantaged areas tended to earn less on average even when they complete the same degree from the same third-level institution and are working at the same level and within the same sector as those who are not from a disadvantaged background. 

Lack of socio-economic diversity was noted in the report, especially within specific fields such as medicine and economics. Within each of these areas of study, only 4% of undergraduates came from disadvantaged backgrounds while students from affluent areas made up 35% and 43% in the same disciplines respectively. 

Non-progression and non-completion are issues acknowledged in the report for disadvantaged students in third-level institutions, the study indicated that of students progressing from DEIS schools, which focus on addressing the education of children and young people from disadvantaged communities, only 46.7% went on to higher education compared to 71.3% of students from standard secondary schools who progressed to higher education.  

Of all the colleges that were assessed, St. Angela’s College in Sligo was found to be the best in terms of participation and progress for students of disadvantaged backgrounds followed by Letterkenny Institute of Technology and Mary Immaculate College in Limerick. Dublin City University held the highest ranking for a university while the National College of Art and Design is ranked last in 22nd place. 

Recently, the College Tribune reported that the government is considering a change to the SUSI grant application system to widen the eligibility prospects for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The purpose behind highlighting progression in the report is to  “…refocus some attention towards social mobility, a factor that is glaringly missing from the oft-cited standard university rankings, and to encourage all HEIs to improve in this space collective, to a point where the HEI ranked 22nd actually performing strongly in social mobility terms.” 

Danielle DerGarabedian – Incoming Editor

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