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Ireland spends less on students than international average

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Ireland spends less per student in primary, post-primary and third-level education than the average across the developed world.

The figures emerge in a report which also shows that Ireland ranks last of 38 countries covered by the OECD in the proportion of wealth generated in the country that it  devotes to education.

The OECD annual Education at a Glance report compares expenditure by converting currencies to the US dollar and equalising to buy the same amount of goods and services in each country.

This mechanism is known as purchasing power parity (PPP).

Using PPP data in the report based on the spend in 2019 (and converted at today’s dollar-euro exchange rates) Ireland devoted an average of €11,366 across all students, compared with an international average €12,214 .

The lowest spend was at primary level, working out at €8,849  in Ireland, compared with an OECD average of €10,019, while at post-primary it was €10,577 against €11,613, and at third level it was €17,315 v €17,888.

Overall, Ireland continues to spend less of the wealth generated in the country on education than the OECD average.

OECD countries spent an average 4.9pc of their gross domestic product (GDP) on education in 2019, compared with 3.2pc in Ireland.

Ireland’s 3.2pc is also lower than the average 4.4pc within the EU, according to the Education at a Glance report, a comparison of 38 countries in the developed world, published by the international think-tank, the OECD.

However, Ireland allocates more Government expenditure to education, 12.9pc in 2019, than the OECD average of 10.6pc.

The difference between the two measures is explained by Ireland’s relatively low total Government spend as a share of GDP.

GDP is a measure of the size of the economy, although the Irish figure is likely to over-estimate the real size because it includes earnings repatriated by multi-nationals.

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Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) president, Miriam Duggan, criticised the Government spend, noting that Ireland invested 1pc of GDP in second-level education compared to the OECD and EU averages of 1.9pc.

“At a time of record high numbers of young people attending second-level education, schools are in urgent need of a significant increase in funding.

"If we are serious about preparing all of our young people for life and work in modern society we must catch up with our OECD and EU counterparts. Smaller classes, improved buildings and IT resources, and more guidance counsellors are key areas crying out for urgent investment,” she said.

Education at a Glance looks at a wide range of measures including the costs and value of education, teachers’ salaries and working hours, pathways to teacher training and professional development opportunities, third-level attainment rates and the numbers not in education and training.

Ireland performs well on the share of 25-34 year olds with a degree, rising to 63pc in 2021, compared with 30pc in 2000.

That was a much faster rise than the OECD average of 21 percentage points, from 27pc to 48pc, in the same period.

Ireland is one of 14 countries where at least half of this age cohort have a third-level education.

Higher educational attainment generally translates into better job prospects and the employment rates among 25-34 year-olds with a degree was significantly higher than among those with lower levels of qualification. This was even more pronounced in Ireland.

Rising up the qualifications ladder is even more important for women than men.

In Ireland, 29pc of women who did not have Leaving Cert were employed in 2021, compared with 87pc of those with a degree.

By comparison 56pc of men who did not have a Leaving Cert were employed, compared with 90pc of those with a degree.

Having a degree is also a passport to higher earnings.

Across the OECD, half of 25-64 year-olds with a degree earn about twice as much as those without a Leaving Cert and, in Ireland, the pay gap was even greater than the OECE average.

The benefit of third level education tends to be particularly strong during economic crises and this was also the case during the Covid pandemic, with degree holders less likely to have suffered unemployment.

Average salaries for teachers in Ireland are at the upper end of the international scale, ranking ninth out of 29 countries for which data is provided. However the report also notes that between 2015 and 2021, the increase in salaries in Ireland in real terms was less than the OECD average (2pc v 6pc).

The report also compares teacher salaries with earnings for other degree holders and finds that, while in almost all OECD countries teachers are paid less than other graduates, Ireland is one of the few exceptions to this rule, with teachers paid 3.1pc less.

However, in contrast - and it is similar to other OECD countries - the salaries of school heads in Ireland are well above average earnings of other degree holders. 

While teachers in Ireland are generally better paid than their international counterparts, they are required to spend less time in school than teachers in other countries, where contracts tend to specifically include a range of non-teaching activities.

Primary teachers in Ireland teach for 900 hours a year and, in 2021, their total working time in school was 1058 hours, compared with an average statutory working time across the OECD of 1,543 hours.

In post-primary schools , teachers in Ireland teach for 700 hours a year, with a total working time in school of 798, compared with an OECD average statutory working time of 1,559 hours. However Irish teachers have a tradition of working voluntarily to support out-of-hours activities.

On teacher training, the report found that the average time spent on this across the OECD ranges from two and a half years to six years, compared with four years for primary teachers in Ireland and typically, six years for post-primary teachers.

Among the positive notes for Ireland was that, after increasing during the pandemic in 2020, the share of 18-24 year-olds who were not in education, employment or training (NEET) declined in 2021, down to 11pc.


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