the Irish for rights

Higher education policy in Ireland: achievements and challenges

ESRI logo, via the ESRI websiteI attended the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) Higher Education Policy Conference yesterday on the topic “Higher Education Policy: Evidence from Ireland and Europe”. In the first session, Dr Selina McCoy of the ESRI spoke on “Higher education research in Ireland: where are we now?” and Muiris O’Connor of the Higher Education (HEA) spoke on “Higher education policy in Ireland: achievements and challenges”. In the second session, Professor David Raffe, Director of the Centre for Educational Sociology in the University of Edinburgh spoke on “Higher education policies across the UK since devolution” and Research Professor Liv Anne Støren of the Norwegian Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education, Oslo spoke on “New trends in higher education in Norway – Are traditional male students ousted by female working class students and immigrant students?”. It was a fascinating series of presentations. Muiris O’Connor’s paper was an excellent survey of the evolution and present state of the Irish higher education sector. David Raffe’s paper put the higher education policy issues into context. Selina McCoy examined the very important specific issue of access to higher education in Ireland, whilst Live Anne Støren provided a comparative perspective on that issue. In this post, I’ll summarize what Muiris O’Connor had to say, and I’ll return to the other presentations tomorrow.

For Muiris O’Connor, the main achievement in Irish higher education policy is the participation rate. Over the last 50 years or so, after a late start – the free second level education scheme was introduced in 1967, about 25 years after the rest of Europe – there has been a rapid expansion of the third level sector and a rapid catch-up to international levels. Ireland is above the OECD average for 25-34 year-olds’ educational attainment in second and third level education. Although Ireland is not quite at OECD levels for PhDs, policy in recent years has been to boost that figure. On the other hand, Ireland is a long way from the OECD average for life-long learning rates. Moreover inequalities at the point of entry to higher education are still severe; in particular, there is a serious drop in participation by those just above the grant eligibility threshold.

More generally, Irish state spending per student is well below international references, but this does not necessarily mean that Ireland is more efficient, because – at least at second level – of the huge historical contributions made by religious orders and the more recent contributions made by parents. At third level, there is a very heavy reliance on public investment; indeed, between 1995 and 2005, private investment actually fell as a proportion of the overall amount of investment. Furthermore, since salaries form a higher proportion of of recurrent expenditure than is the case elsewhere, there is proportionately less for money for learning resources, materials, support, information technology investment, lecture theatres, and so on. For example in 2005, 5% of Irish higher education investment went on capital expenditure, as compared with an OECD average of over 10%.

Finally, there are financial troubles ahead, and people with the lowest levels of educational attainment are being hit hardest, but the policy environment is very supportive of developments in education. Over the next 20 years, it will be necessary to double the capacity of Irish higher education. However, it will not be possible simply to double the current position; instead, a major transformation will be required. Of course, economic efficiencies will be necessary. However, the fundamental challenges are not financial but educational: the higher education sector will have to address new modes of teaching and learning; it will have to accommodate whole new portions of population with diversity of skills, interests and talents; it will have to think carefully about about the skills imparted to students; and resources will have to be targeted carefully.

He concluded that “any nostalgia for a golden age of education is misplaced … we have yet to achieve it”, but he was confident that we would.

5 Responses to “Higher education policy in Ireland: achievements and challenges”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Conor Houghton and efdel, Eoin O'Dell. Eoin O'Dell said: Higher education policy in Ireland: achievements and challenges « cearta.ie http://is.gd/hgYkV My new blogpost […]

  2. […] way of a brief update on my two recent posts about third level policy, a story in yesterday’s papers caught my eye. First, a […]

  3. […] up where I left off with yesterday’s post about the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) Higher Education Policy Conference, […]

  4. […] the Report says that the strategy it suggests “is framed against a range of new challenges that are facing higher education. The capacity of higher education has doubled over the past twenty […]

  5. […] in HE is up by 554% since 1970, and a further increase of more than 70% of the current numbers is projected by 2030. However, even as student numbers increase, funding and staff numbers go the other way. […]

Leave a Reply



Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I’m Eoin O’Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie – the Irish for rights.

“Cearta” really is the Irish word for rights, so the title provides a good sense of the scope of this blog.

In general, I write here about private law, free speech, and cyber law; and, in particular, I write about Irish law and education policy.

Academic links


  • RSS Feed
  • RSS Feed
  • Subscribe via Email
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn

Archives by month

Categories by topic

My recent tweets

Blogroll (or, really, a non-blogroll)

What I'd like for here is a simple widget that takes the list of feeds from my existing RSS reader and displays it here as a blogroll. Nothing fancy. I'd love a recommendation, if you have one.

I had built a blogroll here on my Google Reader RSS subscriptions. Google Reader produced a line of html for each RSS subscription category, each of which I pasted here. So I had a list of my subscriptions as my blogroll, organised by category, which updated whenever I edited Google Reader. Easy peasy. However, with the sad and unnecessary demise of that product, so also went this blogroll. Please take a moment to mourn Google Reader. If there's an RSS reader which provides a line of html for the list of subscriptions, or for each RSS subscription category as Google Reader did, I'd happily use that. So, as I've already begged, I'd love a recommendation, if you have one.

Meanwhile, please bear with me until I find a new RSS+Blogroll solution




Creative Commons License

This blog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. I am happy for you to reuse and adapt my content, provided that you attribute it to me, and do not use it commercially. Thanks. Eoin

Credit where it’s due

The image in the banner above is a detail from a photograph of the front of Trinity College Dublin night taken by Melanie May.

Others whose technical advice and help have proven invaluable in keeping this show on the road include Dermot Frost, Karlin Lillington, Daithí Mac Síthigh, and Antoin Ó Lachtnáin.

Thanks to Blacknight for hosting.