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The Whole Hog: University Challenge
There are numerous reasons why people do or don’t go to college – but for those who choose the third level route , it’s important to enjoy the experience to the full.
The Hot Press Newsdesk, 10 Sep 2012
The light has changed. It’s the angle of the sun, the atmosphere, the first hints of home fires burning, the sudden increase in morning traffic. Autumn is here. Almost two hundred thousand students are about to begin or return to full or part-time higher education courses. Many more have already done so back in the supply line at second level.
The numbers are impressive. At a conference in UCD last year, Minister Ruairi Quinn said that up to 70% of those who have just completed their Leaving Certificate will enter higher education. Almost half (48%) of all 25-34 year olds in Ireland have a third level qualification, placing the country significantly above OECD and EU averages and fourth in the overall rankings. In a report from EU finance ministers in November 2009 Ireland was ranked first in Europe in terms of graduates per 1,000 habitants.
But, while we’re far ahead of the targets set by the EU for 2020, a word of caution is necessary. By comparison with northern EU States, Ireland has a very small and generally underappreciated vocational education sector. The emphasis in all public discourse is on successful participation in school followed by higher education. Other options are usually spoken of like a consolation prize for those who haven’t made the premier league.
When you consider that the most successful European economies are also the most successful societies, you might wonder whether our across-the-board emphasis on general education, and late vocational choice, is a good thing. But that’s how we do it and it seems to fit the prevailing demand. After all, in the same 2009 report from EU finance ministers, Ireland was ranked first in terms of how employers rank our graduates…
It’s interesting that the debate on youth unemployment in Ireland differs from other European countries. We emphasise unemployed (or under-employed) graduates. In other countries the preoccupation is with young people from disadvantaged communities, individuals who would usually participate in vocational training programmes. A country where two out of three people leaving upper secondary school attend higher education is always going to have more graduates among its unemployed than one with a robust vocational training system.