Students who are totally unsuited to higher education are being shoehorned into universities by their parents due to a “snob value” over apprenticeships and training, according to senior academics.
Prof John Hegarty of the Royal Irish Academy said high student drop-out rates in some courses were a symptom of students who were not suited to college.
Ireland has the highest proportions of young people in Europe progressing on to higher education, with about 60 per cent of all school-leavers attending universities or institutes of technology.
By contrast, there has been a dramatic fall-off in the numbers taking part in apprenticeships or training.
Prof Hegarty told an Oireachtas education committee: “There is definitely, among parents, a snob value in the sense that university and higher education are better and the place to go, even if the student is totally unsuited.”
He said the publication by newspapers of feeder schools lists was most “pernicious” and copper-fastening the idea that higher education was the best option.
The chair of NUI Galway governing body, former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness, added that the vocational system had been downgraded.
But she said parents should not necessarily be blamed for encouraging their children to go to college.
“We have tried in a snob kind of way to call them by a different name . . . ,” she said, referring to the rebranding and reform of former Vocational Educational Committees as Education and Training Boards.
She said policymakers needed to entice students back to apprenticeships by creating a top-class system of further education and training.
“We have to provide a good system for people to go before we start criticising parents and saying, ‘You have are having a snob outlook’,” she said.
Prof Hegarty also said a growing shift away from diplomas towards honours degrees among institutes of technology was a symptom of the focus on higher education.
He said a solution to the problem will come when graduates realised they have been educated through “the wrong route”.
“They will become ambassadors for alternative routes of education,” he said.
The Oireachtas committee heard that the apprenticeship system in Germany was a good model given its high status and popularity among school-leavers.
Policymakers have been working to enhance the status of apprenticeships and the further-education system in recent years, though numbers are still well down since the economic downturn.
* This article was amended to correct an error