Geography and third-level education: the strong link

Why do some regions send far more students to university than others?

 Leaving Cert students at Marian College in Sandymount tackling the English exam three years ago.  Where you live influences your chances of going to third-level college. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Leaving Cert students at Marian College in Sandymount tackling the English exam three years ago. Where you live influences your chances of going to third-level college. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Young people who live in more affluent parts of the city and county – predominantly south Dublin and certain parts of north Dublin such as Clontarf, Howth and Portmarnock – have a higher chance of going to college than those in more disadvantaged parts of Dublin. On a county by county basis, Limerick and Galway also do well, while Longford doesn’t do so well.

Why is this? A number of factors are at play. There’s plenty of evidence to show that universities and, to a lesser degree, institutes of technology, have a pull factor on students in their area: if, as you grow up, you regularly pass by UCC, UCD, DCU or NUI Galway, it becomes more likely that you’ll go there. (Ireland is somewhat unusual: in the UK, it’s much more common for students to move away from home and attend a university hundreds of miles from their home.)

Parents’ education

There is copious research which shows the biggest factor in whether or not a child goes to third level is not necessarily their postal address, but how well-educated their parents are, and how engaged those parents are with their child’s education. Fee-paying schools tend to be clustered in more affluent areas and those parents are better educated and have more money. By the same metric, children growing up in disadvantaged areas, whose parents may have less money for grinds and where there may be fewer role models who attended third level, face a number of additional barriers in getting to college.

Where fee-paying schools exist, particularly in Dublin, they tend to send large numbers on to third level. In south Dublin, which has the highest concentration of fee-paying schools in the country, only eight non-fee-paying schools feature in the top 25 and, overall, 16 of these schools send 100 per cent of their students to third level. In north Dublin, where fee-paying schools are fewer, only three of them feature in the top 25. In county Dublin, fee-paying schools take seven of the top 25 spots.

Outside Dublin

Move outside the capital, and the figures tell a different story. In Leinster, the fee-paying school Clongowes Wood College in Naas, Co Kildare, tops the table and St Gerard’s, a fee-paying school in Bray, Co Wicklow, also performs strongly. Overall, however, just four of the top 25 in Leinster are fee-paying; this is simply because there are less of them. Seven of the top 25 in Leinster have 100 per cent progression.

In Munster, the strongest-performing school is the fee-paying Presentation College Cork. Overall, however, just three of the top 25 in Munster are fee-paying schools but all 25 have 100 per cent college progression. This may be influenced by the number of third-levels in the region, including UCC, UL, CIT and, nearby, NUI Galway and WIT.

In Connaught, there is just one fee-paying school in the top 25; 12 of these have 100 per cent progression. NUI Galway, IT Sligo, GMIT and UL are all nearby.

In Ulster, there are no fee-paying schools in the top 25, although only one school manages to have 100 per cent progression; this may be due to the lack of third-level institutions nearby.