‘Class gap’ in top universities revealed in latest enrolment figures

Fee-paying students much more likely to attend top Dublin-based universities

Students from fee-paying schools far more likely to attend a handful of top Dublin-based universities, according to new figures that highlight the extent of the “class gap” in higher education.

Students from fee-paying schools account for between 25 and 30 per cent of new undergraduates at Trinity and UCD in the current academic year.

By contrast, students from fee-paying schools account for less than 1 per cent of students at institutes of technology in Athlone, Galway-Mayo, Tralee, Letterkenny and Waterford.

Geography is a clear factor, given the majority of second-level fee paying students are in the south Dublin area.

The Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (22 per cent) and DIT (17 per cent) have relatively high proportions of students from private schools. By contrast, at DCU – based on Dublin's northside – has relatively few (8 per cent).

The figures are based on an analysis of Irish Times feeder schools data, which shows the proportion of students who go to third-level institutions.

Disadvantaged students

The social divide is also stark when enrolment numbers are broken down by students from disadvantaged areas or Deis schools. Disadvantaged students account for between 20 and 30 per cent of undergraduates at institutes of technology in Blanchardstown, Tallaght, Tralee and Letterkenny.

The proportion of Deis students at Trinity and UCD, by contrast, is about 5 per cent.

These figures indicate both the extent of middle-class privilege and the inequality that continues to pervade an education system despite decades of investment in deprived schools.

When broken down to individual school level, students in the most affluent parts of Dublin are up to 14 times more likely to progress to university than their counterparts from some schools in the city’s most disadvantaged areas.

Most schools in better-off parts of the city – such as Dublin 2, 4 and 6 and 14 – have progression rates of 90 per cent or more to third level.

In many of these schools, the proportion of students going to either Trinity or UCD is as high as between 75 and 80 per cent.

By contrast, individual schools in more deprived parts of the capital – such as Dublin 10, 11, 17 and 24 – have third-level progression rates of about 20-25 per cent, with some as low as 7 per cent.


The Government points out that it is making progress in boosting the numbers of “under-represented groups” at third-level institutions.

A review of the five-year National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education (2015-2019) show there has been an increase in participation rates from people with disabilities and from disadvantaged backgrounds at third level.

The proportion of students with disabilities has grown from 6 per cent in 2015 to 10 per cent last year. This is well ahead of the 8 per cent target the Government had set for next year.

Similarly, the proportion of students from less well-off “semi/unskilled manual worker groups” has grown from 26 per cent in 2015 to 36 per cent last year. This is also ahead of the Government’s 35 per cent target set for next year.

However, considerable gaps remain, with just 41 Travellers out of a total of about 250,000 people in higher education.

The plan set a target of raising the number of Travellers at third level to 80 by next year, but concedes it may be difficult to achieve this.