Sunday 28 December 2014

Children of farmers are three times more likely to go to college

Scale of the education divide exposed
Geography plays big role at uni

Published 20/08/2014 | 02:30

The sons and daughters of farmers are three times more likely to go to college than the average school-leaver.

They have a better chance of finding themselves in university or other third-level institutions than even the children of professionals such as lawyers.

Despite a raft of initiatives, including the abolition of third-level fees, ongoing and wide social divides when it comes to attending college are exposed by a new report.

It puts the spotlight on how one’s address, and family background, remain significant predictors of whether or not you will get a degree.

The report offers an at-a-glance guide to who goes to college – both by county and by Dublin postcodes.

It shows that virtually every 18- to 20-year-old living in affluent Dublin 6 is in higher education.

The 99pc college attendance rate in places like Rathgar and Dartry is the highest in the country.

Increasing demand from employers for third-level qualifications, coupled with a lack of jobs for school-leavers, means there has been a significant rise in college enrolments. Nationally, the proportion of 18-20-year-olds in college has risen from 44pc to 52pc over the past five years.

But not everyone is benefitting to the same extent, and a Higher Education Authority (HEA) report shows how traditional divides still exist.

The report is in preparation for a new national strategy, focused on boosting third-level enrolments among groups that are under-represented in college, such as mature students and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

For the first time with  such a strategy, targets will be set for increased participation by Travellers in third-level education.

Despite their proximity to leading universities, there  may be some surprise that Dubliners are less likely to go to college than their country cousins.

According to figures in the HEA report, overall, 47pc of 18-20-year-olds in Dublin attend third-level, below the national average of 51pc.

Counties sending the highest  proportion of school-leavers (60pc) to college are Galway, Mayo and  Leitrim, compared with 41pc in Donegal, the lowest.

In Dublin, the HEA data shows a glaring social divide when it comes to going on to third-level.

In contrast to the 99pc of 18-20 year-olds from affluent Dublin 6 at college, only 15pc of school-leavers living in Dublin 17, which includes areas of significant social disadvantage, such Clonshaugh, are there with them.

Other Dublin suburbs with very high third-level participation rates are Dublin 4, including Sandymount and Ballsbridge (84pc), Dublin 6W, including Terenure (82pc), and Dublin 16, including Rathfarnham, 79pc).

At the other end of the scale, areas such as Dublin 10, which includes Ballyfermot, has a 16pc participation rate, the second lowest after Dublin 17, on the northside.

When looked at by family background, after farmers, children of the self-employed are the next most likely to attend college, followed by the higher professional classes.

The socio-economic groups with a participation rate below the 52pc national average are the families of manual skilled workers, non-manual workers and lowest of all at 26pc, children of semi-skilled, unskilled and agricultural workers,

HEA chief executive Tom Boland said "an uncomfortable and sobering fact is that deep reservoirs of educational disadvantage, mirroring in large part economic disadvantage, are part of the education story".

Mr Boland said a driving force of equity of access to third-level was to ensure that individuals reached their full potential.

But he said there was also a new imperative, which was that Ireland needed more people with higher-level skills at a time when third-level participation by many of the more affluent socio-economic groups was at, or close to, saturation.

"We need more skilled graduates and would be tragic if the only way we can get that talent is through immigration, when 84pc of school-leavers in places like Ballyfermot are not going to college.

"We need these people to fill jobs".

He said while Irish 30-34-year-olds now had the highest levels of education attainment in the EU, "we are leaving behind a a group of people".

The HEA chief executive said that all the evidence showed that when students from disadvantaged backgrounds did attend third-level, they did as well, if not better, than others and that early disadvantage was not necessarily a handicap to achievement.

He said that it could not be left to "middle class minds" to tackle the issue and there was a need to reach into disadvantage communities and have a robust engagement with them about how to address the problem of their under-representation at third level.

"It would be interesting to see an unsutured view from these communities rather than having it filtered through well intentioned organisations".

Mr Boland also called for a "more joined up approach" between different government departments and agencies on the issue.

The value of third-level education goes well beyond developing the skills and knowledge for a future career path.

Research shows that the higher the level of education a person has the better their life chances generally.

The figures, gathered by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) are from the 2011-12 academic year.

In publishing the consultation document on Towards A Development of a new National Plan for Equity OF Access to Higher Education today, the HEA is inviting comments from groups and individuals before finalising it later this year.

Calls to the Exam Helpline yesterday ranged in duration from five minutes to one hour, as parents and students sought advice following the release of CAO offers.

Guidance counsellors handled 455 calls yesterday on top of the record 800 on Monday and over 1,100 last week. The National Parents Council post primary (NPcpp) helpline, sponsored by the Irish Independent and eircom, is open again today 8am-1pm.

Irish Independent

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