Republic’s youth have higher levels of education, cross-border study finds


According to a new cross-border study by ESRI, young people in the Republic have higher levels of education than those in Northern Ireland.

The report is the first study to systematically compare the systems and outcomes in the two jurisdictions from primary to third level.

Among young people aged 25 to 34, levels of “high” education are higher in the Republic (56%) than in the North (47%).

Higher levels of education are defined as higher education, which includes college, university, and professional courses.

The Republic also has a significantly lower proportion of “low” levels of education among young people (7%) compared to the North (18%).

Low educational attainment is defined as those who leave school with at most a lower secondary qualification.

While both systems face challenges in addressing disadvantage, education inequalities are more pronounced in the North.

For example, early school leaving is two to three times higher in Northern Ireland compared to the Republic and this gap has widened over time.

This is concerning because young people leaving school early are more likely to find themselves unemployed or in low-wage and potentially precarious jobs later in life.

Academic selection

The research indicates that it is likely that academic selection – the use of academic tests at age 11 to select the best-performing pupils who progress to secondary school – in schools in Northern Ireland is a contributing factor.

He indicates that this has important consequences on the career and study choices and aspirations of young people.

Schools other than high schools tend to have lower educational expectations, especially for boys from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Although the study did not explore the difference by religion, it refers to feedback from stakeholders who pointed to higher levels of underachievement among working-class Protestant boys in Northern Ireland compared to Catholics.

In the Republic, the “success” of the Deis (Promoting Equal Opportunities in Schools) program in retaining students in education was cited as a positive development.

The overall proportion of graduates is similar in both jurisdictions.

smallest proportion

However, Northern Ireland has a much lower proportion of people who have completed further education and training (10%) compared to the Republic (30%).

Higher education was perceived as “second best” compared to higher education in both provinces.

The study also notes that at all skill levels, wages are significantly higher south of the border.

It indicates that higher returns to education may motivate individuals to invest in their education and may partly explain low levels of education in the North.

The study also highlights the “high-stakes” nature of rating systems in both jurisdictions at the second level.

Stakeholders have raised concerns about whether the second-tier system prepares students for exams rather than for the world of work and adult life.

The report, A North-South Comparison of Education and Training Systems: Lessons for Policy, was written by ESRI researchers Emer Smyth, Anne Devlin, Adele Bergin and Seamus McGuinness

Dr Anne Devlin said that although there are different structures and approaches, the two systems also have similarities and face many common challenges.

“Greater cooperation across the island would be beneficial in a range of areas, but in particular to address educational disadvantages and promote the inclusion of students with special educational needs,” she said.

Launching the report at an online event, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the research provided valuable evidence and could help North and South learn from each other about education delivery and reform. .

“I think these concerns need to be at the heart of how we will work under the Good Friday Agreement going forward,” he said.


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