Major wealth gap present in higher education system, says study

Students from wealthy families are more likely to achieve top places in third level education

The top scores in the CAO points system are more likely to be achieved by students from affluent areas, according to a new report from the Higher Education Authority (HEA).

The report lays bare the wealth gap in the Irish education system, examining the latest census household income data against Leaving Cert results and students’ progression through higher education into initial employment.

Students from more affluent areas are shown by the report to be more likely to achieve the most prestigious places in third level education courses and go on to make more money than those students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The report shows that in 2017 students from the top 16% most affluent areas accounted for 32% of those scoring 555-600 CAO points, compared with 3% from the 16% most disadvantaged areas.

The trend continues for those students achieving between 505-555 points, with 26% coming from the top 16% bracket and only 4% from the bottom 16%.

Students from wealthy families gained a higher proportion of the results in every CAO points bracket that the report examines down to the 355-405 points range.

The report suggests that affluence is a large factor when determining a students access to third level education, almost twice the number of enrolments in colleges came from the 16% most affluent families, compared to the 16% most disadvantaged families.

While 15% of second level students are defined as disadvantaged, that proportion drops to just 10% at third level.

The college with the highest proportion of students from the most affluent backgrounds was Dun Laoghaire IADT, followed by University College Dublin (UCD).

The report does not contain data from Trinity, as College had originally objected to releasing information because of data protection concerns. These concerns have now been resolved and data from Trinity will be included in the study in future years.

More than 36% of students starting medicine courses came from the top wealth bracket, compared to just 3% from the lowest bracket.

Students studying courses such as economics, maths and philosophy were shown to be more likely to come from more affluent backgrounds, whereas students studying courses in child care and youth services, agriculture and sports were more likely to be from less affluent backgrounds.

The advantages for people from affluent areas continued beyond college and into employment. Regardless of qualification or area of employment, 2017 graduates from wealthy families were likely to go into higher paying jobs than their peers from less affluent backgrounds.

Finn Purdy

Finn Purdy is the current Deputy Editor of Trinity News. He is a Junior Sophister English Studies student, and a former News Editor and Assistant News Editor.