Dropping out of third level

Focus on solutions

Sir, – Carl O’Brien reports (News, September 27th) that 12 per cent of first-year college students dropped out of their course during the 2020-2021 academic year – the rates were as high as 21 per cent for some of the technological universities. This means that more 5,000 young people did not progress in the course that they were initially offered by the CAO system, which is a huge waste of potential and cause of distress for these young people who had started on their college courses with high hopes. There are many possible reasons for dropping out and we cannot blame it all on Covid.

Dropout rates have been high for many years and it is possible that many of these students felt that the course did not suit them or did not live up to expectations.

However, young people are penalised for changing courses as they will not be supported by the Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi) grant and will be eligible for full fees if they choose to start a new course.

Many families will not be able to afford this and as a result the young person has to drop out of higher education with implications for future career prospects.


The Minister for Higher Education should examine this issue closely and should consider allowing one change of mind with continuing financial supports after a student starts in third-level education. This would allow for retention of at least some of these young people in the higher education system at a crucial point in their lives.

Greater investment in mental health services for third-level students is also needed and further supports for students who enter college through the Disability Access Route to Education (Dare) scheme and who have availed of additional supports during secondary school.

We cannot afford to keep losing more than one in 10 students to higher education. – Yours, etc,


Department of Psychiatry,

RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – While factors related to the pandemic exacerbated third level drop-out rates in 2020/21, these overall figures should be viewed in the context of an ongoing political failure to in any way adequately address the sector’s funding crisis.

Released earlier this month, the latest OECD statistics show that at third level, the ratio of students to teaching staff in Ireland has now worsened to 23:1, a ratio significantly above the OECD average of 17:1. This unacceptable ratio results in larger class sizes and less access to laboratories, equipment, materials, libraries and tutorials.

As a result of this chronic underinvestment, it is hardly a surprise that in recent years, the time and support that staff can provide to students has come under huge pressure, with significantly less opportunity available to interact with students individually or in smaller groups. Clearly, in such a situation, it is those students who require the most additional support who lose out, and this obviously has an effect on drop-out rates.

Also, educational disadvantage does not cease after post-primary, and provision must be made available to deliver a level playing field to all students.

It is imperative that next month’s budget begins the process of truly remedying this utterly unacceptable and damaging Government inaction. – Yours, etc,



Teachers’ Union

of Ireland (TUI),

Dublin 6.