FIRST-year students in institutes of technology (ITs) are up to three times more likely to drop out of their course than those in universities.
The students may go on to pursue a different programme of study, but a report has offered stark evidence that too many initially make the wrong choice, or are badly equipped for college.
An average 9pc of first-year university students on an honours (Level 8) programme don't continue to second year in that course, but that rises to an average of 16pc in the institutes of technology.
Non-progression is even higher among first years on ordinary degree/higher certificate (Level 7/6) courses -- usually in ITs -- averaging 26pc and 25pc respectively, and in some cases hitting 33pc.
In the highly career-focused teacher-training colleges, non-progression from first to second year is lowest, averaging 4pc.
Reasons why students don't progress to second year of the same course can go back to long before they enter college, but it is a traumatic and costly experience for first-years and their families, and a waste of taxpayers' money.
Research shows that career guidance and prior educational attainment levels, particularly performance in maths, are among the key factors that dictate how students fare in their first year in college.
The information, from a Higher Education Authority (HEA) report based on detailed profiles of individual colleges, provides the clearest picture yet of what is going on at third level.
Although not intended as a league table, it shows the strengths and relative weaknesses of individual universities, institutes of technology and others, such as teacher-training colleges. The provision of such data is in line with international trends and offers a new level of transparency and accountability.
The information, relating to the 2010/11 year, is the start of a quality assurance process that will see annual updates of this data.
It will be a valuable resource for students, parents, guidance counsellors, business and academia as a reference guide to the performance of Irish higher education.
It is part of wider moves to ensure that Irish higher education is fit for purpose, which also includes changes to third-level structures, including college mergers and an end to unnecessary course duplication.
According to the HEA, the publication of the college profiles is designed to support them in their strategic performance management in order to maximise the contribution of each both to the formation of a coherent higher education system and to national development.
The non-progression rate for first-year students into second year of the same course is only one of a wide range of data gathered in the profiles, which are being published on the HEA website today.
Other information includes a breakdown of enrolments and disciplinary, mix, research income, staff-student ratio, the staff qualifications, funding, average spend on each student, mature student number, and internationalisation. It confirms, for instance, that, among the universities, NUI Maynooth has most mature students, UCD scores best on international enrolments and TCD has proportionately more PhD graduates on its academic staff.
HEA CEO Tom Boland said the data would allow for the monitoring of trends in terms of student numbers, fields of study, participation, and the financial and human resource base for the sector.
He said that rather than reflecting any desire to instigate a ranking system, the report signalled the HEA's intention to work in partnership with all higher education institutions.
Mr Boland said it wanted to ensure that the system as a whole advanced the national priorities set out by the Government -- economic renewal, social cohesion and cultural development, public sector reform, and for the restoration and enhancement of Ireland's international reputation.
"As a small country, we need to play to our strengths, and to collaborate in order to compete on the global stage. We intend to make this the best small country in the world in which to engage in learning and research," he said.