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Children from poorer families face double hit at third level

CHILDREN from less well-off backgrounds suffer a double disadvantage when it comes to getting a third-level education.

It is well-known that fewer go to college. Now it emerges that even when they do get there, they are much older than the typical 18-year-old entrant.

The Leaving Certificate is the accepted passport to third-level education for students from the country's higher socio-economic groups.

More than 70pc of college students from professional families get into their degree course on the basis of their Leaving Certificate, according to new figures.

But children from lower socio-economic groups do not enjoy the same seamless school-to-college transition.

Only 55pc of students from an 'unskilled manual' socio-economic background progressed to college after the Leaving Certificate.

Not surprisingly, the situation is reversed in the breakdown for mature college entrants -- those who are over 23-years-old.

While 29pc of students from unskilled families were over 23 entering college, the equivalent figure for those from professional backgrounds is 11pc.

The inequality is highlighted in the Eurostudent Survey on the Social and Living Conditions of Students in Ireland 2009/10, published by the Higher Education Authority (HEA).

It is based on responses from almost 14,000 students out of a total third-level population at the time of about 180,000.

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This is the fourth such survey, but the first time a link has been drawn between the entry route to college and socio-economic background.

The survey also confirms the continuing dominance of the higher socio-economic groups in third-level education.

It shows that 31pc of all college students in 2009/10 had parents who were professionals, while a further 18pc were the children of people such as lawyers and senior managers.

By contrast, 8pc of students that year came from a craft/trades background and 4pc were in occupations such as domestic helpers.

The survey also looked at a range of student-related issues including work, finance, alcohol consumption, and general health and well-being.

It found that 42pc of students -- and more so among females -- reported high levels of depression, anxiety and psychological distress, in line with the findings from 2007.

Many students showed symptoms of chronic stress, with 28pc reporting difficulty concentrating and 26pc saying they had problems sleeping.

Students indicated that the stress was associated with financial worries and workload.

There may be no surprise that 83pc of students said they drank alcohol, and 12pc exceed the safe limit for their gender, similar to results from earlier surveys. According to the study, 26pc of students smoked, while 22pc did not do any exercise.

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