Irish parents blamed for high rate of overqualified workers

Education chief says parents are ‘obsessed’ with sending their children to third-level

Parents’ ‘obsession’ with ensuring their children progress to third-level is a key reason why Irish workers are among the most overqualified in Europe, it has been claimed. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Parents’ ‘obsession’ with ensuring their children progress to third-level is a key reason why Irish workers are among the most overqualified in Europe, it has been claimed. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

Parents’ “obsession” with ensuring their children progress to third-level is a key reason why Irish workers are among the most overqualified in Europe for the jobs in which they are working, it has been claimed.

Latest figures show that about one in three workers in the State are at least one educational level above the international norm for the jobs they are in.

This is the highest rate in the EU and almost twice the level of countries such as France, Sweden and Finland.

Responding to the news, Michael Moriarty, general secretary of Education and Training Boards Ireland, which runs much of the Irish further education sector, said too many students were attending third-level.

“Many are going too early to third-level or shouldn’t be there at all in the first place. That’s clear in the attrition rates in some college courses,” he said.

Mr Moriarty said there was a “misplaced snobbery” among many parents who were “obsessed” with sending their children to higher education regardless of their talents.

About 60 per cent of school-leavers in the State progress to higher education, one of the highest rates in the EU.

Mr Moriarty said: “Students’ aptitudes should determine their learning pathway, rather than an automatic assumption that they should go to third-level.

“Parents are not aware that apprenticeships are changing, with a growth in white-collar apprenticeships in areas such as marketing and insurance. Some even offer progression onto third-level and even level nine [postgraduate] qualifications.”

In contrast to Ireland, Mr Moriarty said that in Germany only a minority of student progressed to higher education, with many more engaging in apprenticeships and other forms of further education.

However, Dr Graham Love, chief executive of the Higher Education Authority, said it was a great achievement that so many Irish school-leavers were going to third-level.

“The benefits of higher education go well beyond preparing people for jobs. There are a whole set of other objectives such as social cohesion . . . The very large proportion of people who have benefited from the massification of higher ed has had something to do with that,” he said.

Relevance

Dr Love also said many graduates may be “overeducated” for their jobs in the short-term, but their qualifications may become more relevant later in their careers.

He accepted, however, that more could be done to better align graduates’ qualifications with the needs of industry over the coming years.

On the issue of overeducation, employers’ group Ibec said firms were more concerned about job applicants’ skills than their qualification levels.

Tony Donohoe, Ibec’s head of education and social policy, said skills can be developed at all levels of education.

“Traditionally, Irish society has placed too much value on the traditional academic model of attainment, which doesn’t serve all young people well,” he said.

“People learn in different ways and at different stages of their life. Therefore we need a system that provides multiple progression paths and values experiential learning.”

He said debates over whether we are sending too many school-leavers on to higher education missed a key point.

“We should equip students for what can be a long journey to rewarding employment and fulfilling lives in a future environment whose demands we can neither anticipate nor predict,” he said.

“But there is an onus on education institutions to provide their students with an understanding of their knowledge, skills and attributes in terms of the value that they can bring to prospective employers. This is particularly important for graduates from less vocational disciplines.”