Monday 23 September 2019

Education 'is all about money and who you know' - how postcodes 'determine life chances'

(Stock image)
(Stock image)
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The huge gap between the 'haves' and 'have nots' in education is laid bare in the most detailed research ever on how postcodes determine life chances.

It reveals how children from the most affluent areas are 10 times more likely to score high CAO points and to have their pick of prestigious third-level courses.

In one stark example, more than 36pc of enrolments to medicine in 2017/18 came from the most financially well-off areas, compared with 3.5pc from disadvantaged communities.

Disparities continue all the way through graduation to earning power in students' first jobs, suggesting the value of the 'who you know' factor when it comes to landing the best-paid employment.

The big divide is highlighted in a soon-to-be-published report from the Higher Education Authority (HEA) on the impact of socioeconomic background on higher education access and outcomes.

There have been many studies on how advantage perpetuates advantage, while the less well-off lag behind in the education stakes, but the new research offers a particularly deep insight into the extent of the problem. It explores small population pockets and cross-references latest census household income data with Leaving Cert achievement levels, and progression through higher education.

Researchers measured socioeconomic background using the Government's Pobal HP Deprivation Index, which scores the relative affluence or disadvantage of a particular geographical area.

One extract from the report, seen by the Irish Independent, compares how among higher education enrolments in 2017/18, students from well-off families dominated the high Leaving Cert/CAO points bands, and vice versa.

It shows that students from the 16pc most affluent areas accounted for 32pc of those scoring 555-600 points and 26pc of those with 505-555 points compared with 3pc and 4pc of those from the 16pc most disadvantaged backgrounds. According to the report, this largely explains the socioeconomic profile of the 500+points courses, such as healthcare and business/finance/economics which tend to be largely populated with students from relatively affluent backgrounds.

The same pattern is evident across all the Leaving Cert points bands, from 355-405 up, while students from disadvantaged areas are much more likely to dominate in the lower points brackets. Some 24pc of those with 155-205 points were from disadvantaged areas, compared with 8pc from the most affluent communities.

The gap in access to higher education is illustrated with 19pc of enrolments coming from the 16pc most affluent families, compared with 10pc from the 16pc most disadvantaged families.

The figures for medicine illustrate the particularly wide gulf in a field of study leading to the most lucrative careers and dominated by a social elite and often the same families.

Pay levels in the year after leaving college for 2017 graduates were among the other focuses of HEA researchers. They found that regardless of the level, specialism or grade achieved, or the initial type of employment, socioeconomic origins had a bearing on earnings and could mean a difference between about €1,000-€2,000 compared with a well-off classmate.

Irish Independent

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