Record number of students now in third level

Of those who graduated with honours degrees, 20% received first-class result

The number of students in higher education has climbed to a record high with almost a quarter of a million people studying a third-level course last year.

The new figures look set to cement Ireland’s position within the EU as the member state with the highest proportion of school-leavers progressing to higher education.

Some 44,000 new entrants began higher education courses while more than 70,000 graduated from either undergraduate or postgraduate qualifications, according to official figures.

The Higher Education Authority, which compiled the data, said this large talent pool will help the country meet whatever challenges it faces in the years ahead. "Ireland is clearly a society committed to learning, where now one in every 15 adults in the State is studying in one of our universities, institutes or colleges,"said Paul O'Toole, the authority's chief executive.


Private income

However, the figures also point to challenges facing the sector with new financial data showing that universities are more reliant than ever on private income.

While universities used to receive most of their income from the State, the bulk of their funding now comes from private sources such as student contributions, research grants, international student fees, loans and other sources.

Honours degrees

Overall, there were 231,710 enrolments in the higher education system in 2017/18. Most students were full-time undergraduates (up 8 per cent over five years). Of those who graduated with honours degrees, about one in five received first class honours while almost half received 2.1 degrees .The single biggest area of study for new entrants are arts and humanities (19 per cent), business administration/law (19 per cent) and health and welfare (14 per cent).

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