Parents need to learn higher education is not the only measure of success

ETBI chief says many students may flourish in more hands-on further education courses

Many colleges have low minimum entry requirements for what are often highly demanding courses. Photograph: Getty Images

Parents need to be challenged over their belief that higher education is the “only measure of success” for school-leavers, the head of a national education body has warned.

Nessa White, general secretary of Education and Training Boards Ireland, was responding to the findings of a study which show alarming dropout rates among students in some computing and engineering courses with low CAO entry points.

For example, the Higher Education Authority study shows some engineering courses at IT Blanchardstown had drop-out rates of up to 89 per cent, while some computing courses at the same college had non-completion rates of up to 83 per cent.

Some educationalists have questioned whether too many students feel compelled to go to college, even though they may flourish with more hands-on options such as further education or apprenticeships.


“The findings of the report provide stark evidence that we may not be getting this right for the students and learners of Ireland,” Ms White said.

“The findings also provide us with an opportunity to challenge the conditioning parents have that the only measure of success is that your child progresses to third level education.

She said Education and Training Boards (ETBs) – which run further education colleges – provide many options to ensure progression in a person-centred way that help ensure students can reach their full potential.

“The challenge for us as education providers is to ensure a seamless two-way flow between further and higher education providers,” she said,

“This can be achieved through strategic collaborations between ETBs and higher education providers. The establishment of technological universities provides an excellent opportunity to think differently in this space.”

The issue of minimum entry requirements for third-level courses has also come under the spotlight as a result of the Higher Education Authority’s report findings.

Students with low CAO points are much more likely to struggle, especially where they have poor maths or English grades in the Leaving Cert.

However, many colleges have low minimum entry requirements for what are often highly demanding courses.

When asked whether its entry requirements will change, IT Blanchardstown – now part of the Technological University Dublin – said the report's findings were based on a single cohort of students who started college in 2007-2008.

“Ensuring pathways to qualification are open to students at all levels from apprenticeship to postgraduate – with exit points as appropriate – is key to the ethos of TU Dublin,” a spokeswoman said,

“We want to see all of our students achieve their goals to the best of their ability and we continually review all of the factors that may be relevant to successful completion – academic, social and economic.”

She said student supports such as enhanced orientation programmes, peer mentoring, maths learning centres and academic writing centres were available to help those at risk of struggling.

Linda Keane, the Irish Computer Society's strategy and operations manager, said one of the factors behind high drop-out rates may be a poor understanding of the demands of computer science courses.

“Students might expect it [computer science] to be about gaming and social media, and their parents might expect it is about skills such as spreadsheets, word processing, email, and so on,” she said.

“While these are certainly very valuable skills in themselves they are absolutely not computer science.”

She said these courses required good problem-solving skills, computational thinking and good level of maths.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent