Progress in Ireland

March 31st, 2005 | by aobaoill |

There’s a very interesting new report out from Ireland’s Central Statistics Office. Called ‘Measuring Ireland’s Progress 2004’ it examines Ireland’s economy and society on over 100 issues, comparing them in many cases to statistics across the EU (and beyond, including Norway, Iceland and candidates for EU membership Bulgaria and Romania).
There isn’t anything on media, which would have been interesting, but there is an interesting section on education (amongst much more). They claim that 130,000 people were in full-time third level education in 2002/03, with 34,000 in part-time. I’m told USI (the Union of Students in Ireland) claims there are in the region of 250,000 third-level students, so there’s a significant gap there. I’m guessing there may be adults engaged in educational courses that may not be counted as third level by the CSO (such as VTOS – Vocational Training Opportunity Schemes) that would bump up the numbers, but I’d be hard-pressed to set the total number of adults in education at over 200,000 even so.
But that’s a side issue. I’m interested in levels of achievement and especially the prospects of those who drop out of the formal educational system. First competency, as measured by the OECD’s PISA scheme. Irish students do much better than the OECD average in reading and slightly better in maths and science. Girls perform much better than boys in reading, worse in mathematics and slightly worse in science – which mirrors the situation across the OECD. I’d note that the PISA is based on 15-16 year olds in education, so one would expect that those with high levels of school completion would do even better if the survey were completed across all 15-16 year olds.
So how does Ireland do on early school leaving? Better than average, but not as good as many. In 2004 12.9% of those aged 18-24 had left school with at most lower-second level education. This compares with an EU average of 15.9%. Notably 16% of males leave early, compared to 9.7% of females. This is an even larger spread than in the EU as a whole, where the split it 18.1%/13.6%. And if you’re sceptical about whether early school-leaving should be of concern, note that the unemployment rate of early school-leavers (aged 18-24) is 21.9%. The overall unemployment rate in the population (15-64) is just over 4%.
It seems that school completion rates have been increasing dramatically and continually in Ireland (though emigration will have skewed the numbers):

Age group Persons Males Females
20-24 86.2 83.1 89.4
25-34 80.1 76.6 83.6
35-44 68.9 65.3 72.6
45-54 54.4 51.8 57.1
55-64 40.2 38.8 41.6

It should be noted that free second-level education was introduced in Ireland just about when current 50-52 year olds could take advantage of it. Free third-level education was introduced between 1995 and 1997, so can we see similar jumps in third-level attainment? Well, the proportion of the population (aged 25-34) with third level education has increased from 27.1% in 1999 to 39.4% in 2004. By my (back of envelope) calculations we’d expect third-level rates to eventually reach 65% if fees were the only factor influencing participation. Of course, capacity of institutions is probably a more significant factor, but still if all growth in the rate has been in younger people entering the 25-34 age cohort completion is probably heading towards at least 50%. The EU average is 24.8%, with Ireland having the third highest rate (behind Cyprus and Belgium). Interestingly only 21% of Germans (aged 25-34) have third level education, and they are not alone – or the lowest, even of the EU15. In terms of gender, women in Ireland are more likely to have third level education, with the gap growing (42.7%:36%, as opposed to 27.5%:26.7% in 1999).
In terms of class sizes and student teacher ratios we perform quite poorly, being one of the worst in the EU. Our expenditure on education as a proportion of GDP is quite below average (4.4% as opposed to 5.1% for the EU). Interestingly the CSO also do a calculation based on GNI (Gross National Income) where we come out at 5.1% (because of the large difference between Ireland’s GDP and GNP/GNI – fueled by our large dependence on foreign firms).
Moving directly to income and poverty, 21.3% of the population are deemed ‘at risk of poverty’ even after pensions and social transfers, the worst reported rate in the EU. The breakdown of this by age and gender is interesting:

Age Male Female Persons
0-14 22.7% 22.3% 22.5%
15-64 16.9% 17.8% 17.4%
65 and over 35.7% 48.9% 43.2%
Total 20.0% 22.6% 21.3%

That’s almost half of women 65 or over who are at risk of poverty – and that’s after pensions and other supports. 9.4% of the population are defined to be in ‘consistent poverty.’ I’ve a feeling that I’ve seen criticism recently of the factors used to measure this, but I’ve been unable to locate anything in a cursory search.
There’s far more data in there, but I’ll stop here. It’s interesting to note why the survey has been conducted (to aid the national ‘partnership’ process, as part of “a move towards more evidence-based policy making”) and that the approach is likely to be adopted by other countries. Of course there are many issues that aren’t addressed – such as the reliance on international investment, or the media (other than internet subscription rates), and some other problematic assumptions (such as using patent application rates as a measure of “innovation and technology” – which could lead to, e.g. policies that expand patent regulations if policy starts chasing the rankings) but it’s a very useful set of statistics to have available and in one place.

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