Young people in Ireland have among the highest levels of education in the world, according to a major new international study.
The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report shows that 56 per cent of 25-34 year olds in Ireland had received higher or further education. The average for the OECD is 44 per cent.
This Irish score is the highest in Europe and the fourth highest in the world, followed only by Korea, the Russian Federation and Canada.
The findings are contained in the OECD's Education at Glance 2019 report which examines the performance of education systems in almost 50 developed countries across the globe.
However, the report also ranks Ireland towards the bottom of the developed world for investment in second-level education as a percentage of GDP.
Ireland invested 3.5 per cent of GDP in primary, second and third-level education in 2016 compared to the OECD average of 5 per cent.
Irish class sizes are also larger than in most developed countries. There are 25 students per class on average in Ireland at primary level, compared to 21 students across OECD countries.
Degree-holders in Ireland, meanwhile, earn a significant wage premium compared to other countries.
For example, those with a bachelor’s degree in Ireland earn on average 81 per cent more than those who completed secondary school only. This compares to a salary premium of about 44 per cent across the OECD.
Those who have completed at least a master’s programme in Ireland can expect to earn twice as much as those with just second level education.
Students in Ireland are also less likely to drop out of their degree courses compared to other countries.
The report also indicates that Ireland has above-average teachers’ statutory salaries.
Irish salaries start at about $36,600 (€33,134), according to the report.
This is 2 per cent higher than the OECD average for teachers in upper secondary education (senior cycle), 7 per cent higher in lower secondary (junior cycle) and 11 per higher in primary, it says.
However, teachers in Ireland have longer teaching hours and instruction time compared to other countries.
Teaching hours at primary in Ireland are about 905 hours and at secondary are 726 hours, just above the OECD average.
The Paris-based institute has warned that while demand for tertiary – or higher and further – education continues to rise, its further expansion will only be sustainable if it matches the supply of graduates with labour market and social needs.
“We must expand opportunities and build stronger bridges with future skills needs so that every student can find their place in society and achieve their full potential,” said OECD secretary-General Angel Gurría.
In response to the findings, teachers’ unions said the report laid bare the lack of investment in education.
“The continuing refusal to invest must be viewed at as a sustained attack on the most vulnerable in our communities,” said Teachers’ Union of Ireland president Seamus Lahart.
The Assocation of Secondaty Teachers Ireland said underinvestment means there were fewer resources for more students.