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That narrative around third level access. February 7, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

This is news?

An Irish Times analysis on the proportion of students on grants across the higher and further education sector last year contains some revealing findings. It shows a striking class divide, with students from better-off families far more likely to occupy places at the country’s top universities.


For example, only a minority of students at UCD (27 per cent) and Trinity College Dublin (28 per cent) are in receipt of grants. Students from less well-off backgrounds, by contrast, are much more likely to be studying at institutes of technology.
The pattern is even more extreme among institutes of technology in regional areas. While Letterkenny IT has the highest concentration of grant-holders (74 per cent), it is followed by Athlone IT (73 per cent) and IT Carlow (71 per cent).


These figures appear to show that well-off families still have a firm grip on university places, despite the rapid expansion of higher education and the introduction of “free fees” two decades ago.

At the same time there’s a part of me that dislikes the implicit hierarchy at work here – that the ‘universities’ are somehow a different category (and a superior one at that) entirely from ITs. And that serves a narrative which seeks to suggest that ‘free fees’ have failed when, one could, as has been done on this site many times in the past, point to the totality of third level access and suggest that in that context free fees (for all that the approach is flawed in terms of costs of education etc) have seen a broadening of access.


1. Jim Monaghan - February 7, 2017

Third Level is important but is it the right thing for everyone. A better apprenticeship and or internship system should run in parallel. And not one where there is a limit on achievement.I would add that many young people ( and indeed very clever ones) are not suited for an academic route and find school incredibly boring. E.g why cannot every engineering apprentice continue on to become a chartered engineer. Why is nursing a separate part to medicine. (Nurses should be able to fast track to becoming doctors). Why not have “sandwich” courses which combine work and qualifications. We should look at the German system among others.
Oh we need two really excellent world class universities. I am somewhat of a heretic here. I do think there is a difference between most if not all ITs and say UCD or Trinity in outcomes.


sonofstan - February 7, 2017

I’d be nervous about blurring the categorial distinction between unis and ITs – not to preserve the sanctity of them groves, but to save the ITs from the unequal marketplace that has plunged quite a few institutions here into a death spiral since the magic wand was waved in ’92.

Jim – the government here is mad keen for degree apprenticeships: paid for by a levy on employers and free at point of delivery. First ones come onstream next academic year. will be interesting…..


WorldbyStorm - February 7, 2017

But is that true Jim re outcomes? I’ve been an examiner/external examiner in ITs and non-ITs and my direct experience is that the former were easily as good as if not better than the latter (and of course all that raises questions as to what better and worse and good and not good are).

I’ve no problem with apprenticeships but I’d like to see the class aspects of that softened, i.e. more middle class people doing apprenticeships and more working class people doing third level. I know this isn’t your intent Jim, but there is an issue with defaulting into jobs/education structures due to class position and it’s deeply problematic to see just how deeply ingrained that default can be.

That’s a fair point SoS re dangers of blurring. That said the answer is, as always, at least in part, arguing for genuine egalitarian structures of education.


sonofstan - February 7, 2017

Obviously, re your last point. But in the absence of genuine equality, the supposed ‘widening participation’ agenda here has created an appearance of equality while expanding the gulf in fact.


WorldbyStorm - February 7, 2017

Do you mean in the U.K. Or RoI? I just wonder about the latter because it seems to me the ITs have done a good job in increasing numbers from a wider variety of backgrounds (albeit economic and other pressures are pushing people towards getting qualifications where in the past they might have bypassed 3rd level entirely). And I’m not entirely hung up on university/IT/other if numbers across the board increase, though I still worry about assumptions about the superiority of the former.


sonofstan - February 7, 2017

‘Here’ being the UK at the minute. It’s much more complicated than i’m painting of course, but the structures here, at least at the wrong end of the league tables, couldn’t be better designed to compromise the ‘student experience’, demoralise teachers and generally diminish any supposed educational advantage accruing from going to university, while harvesting fees from those who will never earn enough to climb out debt.


2. Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » That narrative around third level access - February 7, 2017

[…] “This is news? ‘An Irish Times analysis on the proportion of students on grants across the higher and further education sector last year contains some revealing findings. It shows a striking class divide, with students from better-off families far more likely to occupy places at the country’s top universities …'” (more) […]


3. ivorthorne - February 7, 2017

Is there not a blooming obvious aspect that seems to be being missed here.

Donegal is poor. Dublin is – generally speaking – rich. The ITs cited are in areas that are poor while the Unis in areas where wealth is concentrated. Poor families get the grant. Rich families do not. Poor families cannot afford to pay for rent in expensive areas – grant or no grant. Rich families in Dublin do not have to pay rent if they want their kids to go to TCD or UCD. If poor families know they can’t afford the cost of rent etc. then they know their realistic option is to stay local.


Jim Monaghan - February 8, 2017

Re poor Donegal. I remember Cristina Murphy (IT education correspondent, many moons ago) saying Leitrim had a greater Third Level access success than Ballyfermot.I am sure thsi applies to Donegal. In fact I would guess that on a population basis Donegal is over represented in both the Uni and IT sectors. While poverty and distance is always a problem, there are other factors. Lack of ambition, being ground down,. And I would add some have a negative attitude to education a “look at the swot”, “Him/her, thinks s/he is better than us”.
I am told that t he Access programs have a dismal record. *0 to a 100% not turning up to sit exams.
I think it starts at pre primary level.


4. CMK - February 8, 2017

The fees question here will probably be solved by a student loan type scheme which will be heavily pushed as the ‘fairest’ way to finance third level participation. The unions in the sector are against it, but that won’t count for much when the banks lobby hard to get a piece of the action. So, the new-liberal screw will tightened again on students. In the UK the student loan book is being sold off a-la-NAMA and I am assuming that will end well for those students with loans.


Anyway, the cannibalisation of working conditions in the sector will intensify and in many institutions stressed out and impoverished students will be increasingly be taught by stressed out and impoverished teaching staff in a system marketed as ‘world class’.

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