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Education in Ireland, by Dominic Murray, Alan Smith and Ursula Birthistle
Text: Dominic Murray, Alan Smith and Ursula Birthistle ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
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THE STRUCTURE OF SCHOOLING
THE SCHOOL SYSTEM IN NORTHERN IRELAND
There are approximately 340,000 pupils in statutory education
in Northern Ireland (190,077 in primary; 148,264 in second-level
A distinctive characteristic of the education system in Northern
Ireland is segregation. The system is segregated by religion in
that most children attend predominantly Protestant (Controlled)
schools or Catholic (Maintained) schools. It is also segregated
on the basis of academic ability (and some would argue social
background) in that a selection system operates at age 11 to decide
which children attend Grammar schools. Approximately one third
of children in second level education attend Grammar schools.
It is further delineated by gender, particularly in second level
education where a quarter of the Secondary schools and almost
half of all Grammar schools are single sex.
Primary education in Northern Ireland
Primary level covers the ages 4-11 years. The starting age
is four years on or before 1st July to start on 1st September
of the same year. If space allows, four year olds who have not
reached the compulsory starting age may be enrolled. At age 11
the majority of pupils sit a series of tests as part of a Transfer
Procedure to determine whether they transfer to the more academic
Grammar school system or the more vocationally orientated Secondary
school system. However, such distinctions may be less valid since
the introduction of a common curriculum for all pupils. Parents
have the right to express a preference for which second-level
school they wish their child to attend. Schools must publish
admissions criteria which are applied when the number of applicants
exceeds the maximum capacity for the school. Only Grammar schools
are permitted to select their pupils on the basis of results from
the Transfer tests.
Secondary education in Northern Ireland
Provision is in either secondary intermediate (High) schools
which cater for 11-16 years, with some provision for 16-18 years;
or in grammar schools which have sixth forms taking pupils up
to age 18.
Statutory education ends at age 16 although education is free
for those pupils who decide to continue to age 18. At 16 years
pupils sit the GCSE examination (usually 7-10 subjects are taken).
At 18 years the GCE 'A' level examination (3-4 subjects are usually
Types of schools in Northern Ireland
When the State of Northern Ireland was set up, the main Protestant
churches transferred their ownership of schools to the State.
These and new schools established by the State have became known
as 'controlled' schools. Controlled schools are managed by Boards
of Governors under the auspices of the Education and Library Boards
and are 100% funded by the ELB's under the Local Management of
Schools (LMS) scheme. The enrolments of most controlled schools
continue to be predominantly Protestant. In 1993 there were 488
Primary, 81 Secondary and 18 Grammar schools in the controlled
sector which catered for 144,660 children (just under half of
all pupils in Northern Ireland).
Voluntary Maintained schools
In 1921, when the State of Northern Ireland was established,
the Roman Catholic church retained ownership of its schools. These
schools have evolved into a system of Catholic voluntary maintained
schools and were initially only partly funded. Through a series
of legislative changes over the years Catholic maintained schools
have become 100% funded by the ELB's under the LMS. Until the
Education Reform (NI) Order, 1989 maintained schools received
85% of capital funding, but may now receive 100% of capital costs
if they opt for 'new category voluntary' status. This necessitates
a change in the composition of the Board of Governors so that
no single interest group has a majority. The Council for Catholic
maintained Schools (CCMS) was also established through the Education
Reform (NI) Order, 1989 to undertake certain functions in relation
to matters such as the employment of teachers in Catholic Maintained
schools. In 1993 there were 469 Primary and 83 Secondary schools
in the maintained sector which catered for 143,321 children (just
under half of all pupils in Northern Ireland).
Voluntary Grammar schools
In 1993 there were 52 voluntary Grammar schools in Northern
Ireland of which 31 are Catholic voluntary Grammar schools. The
others are schools which were established with a distinctive ethos
related to the founding body (in many cases church related). Voluntary
Grammar schools receive 100% direct grant for running costs from
the Department of Education. They receive 85% of capital costs,
but may qualify for 100% capital funding by opting for 'new category
voluntary' status. Running costs are met by direct block grants
from DENI. Eleven voluntary Grammar schools have boarding facilities
for which fees that vary between £1,000 - £1,800 per
term may be charged.
Since 1981 a small but growing number of integrated Primary
and Secondary schools have been established in Northern Ireland.
They are distinctive in that they have been established by parents
rather than the State or a church. Integrated schools are 'shared
institutions' in that their management, staffing and enrolment
are drawn in roughly equal numbers from the Catholic and Protestant
communities in Northern Ireland. Initially integrated schools
were established as independent schools (financed largely by charitable
foundations, voluntary bodies and parental fund-raising) and could
only receive Government funding once their viability was established.
However, the Education Reform (NI) Order, 1989 introduced a number
of measures to support the development of integrated schools.
These include the introduction of two main categories of integrated
- Most new integrated schools are established as Grant Maintained
Integrated schools through a development process supported by
the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE).
Provided certain criteria are met, the schools can receive 100%
recurrent funding direct from DENI on the day they open. However,
capital funding is not provided until the school has proved its
viability (often up to three years later). One consequence of
this policy is that most new Grant Maintained Integrated schools
have opened in temporary mobile accommodation.
- Increasingly, Government has sought to make it easier for
existing (mainly controlled) schools to become Controlled Integrated
schools. This involves a statutory process whereby parents or
governors within an existing controlled school may initiate a
ballot to determine whether the school should seek a formal change
in status. If there is a majority in support of such a change
then formal changes to the management of the school are made although
it continues to receive 100% funding for capital and recurrent
costs from the local Education and Library Board. Less clear are
the criteria in terms of enrolment, management, staffing, curricular
and systemic changes within the school that government would require
over a period of time to ensure that the transformation is not
In 1996 there were 31 integrated schools in Northern Ireland (20
Primary and 11 post-Primary) attended by 5,500 pupils (almost
2% of the school population). The running costs of nursery classes
within integrated Primary schools are not funded by the Department
Irish Medium Schools
In Northern Ireland there are eight Primary and two Secondary
schools in which the medium for teaching and learning is the Irish
language. The level of statutory funding is related to viability
as determined by DENI. From November 1995 the Primaries are fully
funded by government and one of the Secondary schools receives
partial funding. In total, Irish language schools serve 805 pupils
at primary level and 108 at secondary. The co-ordinating body
within Northern Ireland is called Gaeloiliuint (The Council for
All-Irish Education). All Irish medium schools are also affiliated
to Gaelscoileanna, which is an all-Ireland co-ordinating body.
There are 21 independent (fully private schools) catering
for a very small proportion of pupils and which receive no public
funding. Most of these are Independent Christian Schools associated
with the Free Presbyterian Church. Also in this category are several
Irish language schools and a Rudolph Steiner School. Since these
schools are completely independent they are subject to minimum
registration and inspection requirements and are not subject to
the statutory requirement to implement the Northern Ireland curriculum.
State provision includes 89 Nursery schools and nursery classes
which are attended by over 4,000 children. In addition, reception
classes in Primary schools cater for 70% of all four year olds.
A very small number of preschool groups are run by Health Boards.
In general terms, within the voluntary and private sector, nursery
provision falls within the remit of the Department of Education
whilst the Department of Health and Social Services is responsible
for the registration of all playgroups. However, policy in this
general area can be somewhat ambiguous with regard to the exact
status of different types of preschool groups. In general however,
private and voluntary provision falls into three broad categories:
- privately funded nurseries (including seven nurseries operated
by integrated schools and 21 Irish language nurseries);
- community playgroups, most of which are affiliated to the
Northern Ireland Preschool Playgroup Association (NIPPA);
- voluntary playgroups supported by organisations such as the
NSPCC and Save The Children.
There are approximately 645 playgroups in Northern Ireland
catering for 15,853 children. All preschools and playgroups must
be registered with the Health Boards and meet stringent health
and fire regulations. At present it is possible to run a parent
and toddlers group without registering if it operates for under
two hours per week, but under new legislation this will change
and all groups, including crèches (not included at present)
will have to register.
Arrangements differ from Board to Board. Generally a £650
launching grant is available from the Boards. Once established,
groups go on a waiting list for sessional grant aid (£6 per
session, usually five sessions per week). This is paid for 44
weeks per year and once granted will continue. There is a limited
budget within Boards for sessional grants which increases every
year. The increase is used for those on the waiting list rather
than giving an increment to those already in receipt of a grant.
Preschools provided by integrated schools and Irish-medium schools
do not receive any direct grant-aid from government.
From 1997 it is proposed to introduce a nursery voucher system.
The vouchers would give parents of four year-olds £1,100
to buy three terms of nursery education for their children in
either State or private schools and playgroups. No means test
will be required. (At time of writing, due to doubts about a continued
ceasefire and increased spending on security, this scheme has
been suspended by the Secretary of State for one year).
There are a number of courses available for those wishing
to work in the preschool sector including:
- BTEC in Nursery Nursing - a two year, part-time course
- Diploma in Playgroup Practice - a one year course run by NIPPA
- Management of Early Years Setting - a 20 week course run by
THE SCHOOL SYSTEM IN THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
In the Republic of Ireland there are approximately 870,000 pupils
in all schools (505,883 in Primary and 367,645 in Second-level
schools). These numbers were for the 1993-94 school year.
In the Republic of Ireland the Roman Catholic church has historically
played an important role in the management of education. Although
the distinctions are less explicit than in Northern Ireland, the
dynamics of the system raise issues about denominational, non-denominational
and secular perspectives on education. Virtually all Primary (National)
schools are de facto denominational Catholic schools; at
Second level approximately 460 schools can be described as religious.
A further 320 Community, Comprehensive and Vocational schools
have more secular management structures.
There is a degree of segregation on the basis of gender. Many
schools in the Republic of Ireland were traditionally single sex,
but this is changing. The newer Comprehensive and Community schools
are co-educational. The remaining single-sex schools are predominantly
in the secondary sector with some also at primary level. New Primary
schools must be co-educational.
More recently, demographic factors have largely determined the
types of new schools being established. Also, amalgamations of
existing schools are occurring, especially in rural areas. These
have tended to result in the establishment of either Community
schools or Community colleges. Similarly, in the Dublin area,
the new towns on the periphery of the city are establishing Community
schools or colleges.
Primary schools in the Republic of Ireland
Statutory schooling age in the Republic of Ireland is between
ages 6-15 years. There is a proposal in the White Paper to raise
the school leaving age to 16 years. Children may start at four
years, if there is room, and many do. The average starting age
is five. The Constitution of the Republic of Ireland recognises
parents as the prime educators of their children and there is
a right to educate at home, although in practice this rarely happens.
Primary schools in the Republic of Ireland are almost exclusively
National schools, most of which are State-aided parish schools,
established under diocesan patronage. Although denominational,
they are required, if numbers permit, to accept all denominations.
National schooling is non fee paying. There are 3,200 Primary
schools staffed by over 20,000 teachers. There are also 115 special
schools and 79 private schools. More than 50% of Primary schools
have four teachers or less.
Since 1975 most Primary schools have Boards of Management which
employ the teachers. Teacher salaries are paid by the Department
of Education and recurrent costs (for heating, cleaning etc.)
are funded by 'capitation grants' per pupil from the Department
of Education. Schools are also required to raise a contribution
equal to at least 25% of the capitation grant. Funding for the
site of a National school is provided by the local community through
the Patron (the person proposing the new school). The Department
pays 85% of building and furnishing costs (95% in disadvantaged
Gaelscoileanna - Irish Language Schools
Gaelscoileanna are generally set up by parents who own the
school through a limited company. When temporary recognition has
been granted the Department of Education will pay teacher salaries
and capitation grants. It normally takes 3-5 years to prove viability
and attain full recognition. They receive a small amount of extra
funding compared to National schools. This is in the form of a
higher capitation grant and is paid because these schools are
not parish schools and so do not have the parish financial support.
The co-ordinating body for the schools is called 'Gaelscoileanna'.
It assists with start-up and liaises with the Department of Education.
It is funded through Bord na Gaeilge. Gaelscoileanna gives all
new schools, including those in Northern Ireland, a start-up grant.
It liaises closely with Gaeloiliunt, the umbrella body for Irish
medium schools in Northern Ireland.
In the Republic of Ireland, at Primary level, there are 14
multi-denominational schools attended by more than 2,000 pupils.
'Educate Together' is the co-ordinating body for these schools.
This body maintains strong links with the Northern Ireland Council
for Integrated Education and All Children Together.
Multi-denominational schools have been established in a similar
way to integrated schools in Northern Ireland. In both jurisdictions
the motivation for the establishment of these schools has been
parents rather than the traditional institutional interests of
Church and State. However, there are distinctions between the
two types of schools and these are mainly related to the circumstances
underlying the two different societies in which the movements
have emerged. In particular the conflict in the North and an emerging
pluralism in the South.
Multi-denominational schools are funded as National schools. 25%
of recurring costs (other than salaries) must be met locally.
In the case of a new school, the project must own the site and
raise 15% of capital costs. Unlike other National schools, only
provisional recognition is granted until viability has been proven.
Therefore, capital costs for furniture, refurbishment etc. may
not be immediately funded. The White Paper suggests that this
differential may be removed soon.
Second level education in the Republic of Ireland
Entry to second level education is at the age of 12 years
and, unlike Northern Ireland, no official transfer procedure exists
which determines the post-Primary school which children will attend.
In the year 1993/94 there were 782 post Primary schools attended
by 367,645 pupils and staffed by 20,355 teachers.
There is a three-year Junior cycle leading to the Junior Certificate
at approximately age 15. Typically 7-8 subjects are taken at this
level. A Senior cycle follows which may be of two or three years
duration depending on whether the school offers a 'transition
year'. Where students opt to take transition year they may do
so immediately after Junior Certificate. It is a student centred
and interdisciplinary programme, with a wide range of courses
and activities including work experience. Sixty percent of all
schools now provide this course. The Senior cycle is a broadly
based curriculum and typically 5-7 subjects are taken for the
Leaving Certificate.3 Subjects are offered (normally) at two levels
but at three in certain subjects.
Types of schools in the Republic of Ireland
These are privately owned and managed, mainly by religious
authorities and Boards of Governors. They are subject to Department
of Education recognition and regulations. The Department pays
90% of approved building costs. Equipment and recurrent costs
are met largely by a flat-rate capitation grant per student. Teachers'
salaries and allowances are paid almost in full by the Department
of Education. Secondary schools have traditionally been similar
to Grammar schools in Northern Ireland in offering an academic
curriculum, but increasingly they are offering more vocational
and technical options and generally non-selective. Many Secondary
schools are still single sex-schools.
These schools are administered by Vocational Education Committees
(VEC's) which are elected by the local authority of the area in
which they are located. Day to day management is by Boards of
Management and the schools do not charge fees. They are 90% funded
by the Department of Education and 10% by the VECs.
There are a small number (16) of Comprehensive schools which
were established originally as part of the proposed comprehensivisation
of second-level education. They are administered by Boards of
Management which include representatives of the VEC and the Department
of Education. Different Boards structures have been developed
for Catholic and Protestant schools. They receive 100% funding
from the Department of Education.
These are the successors to the Comprehensive schools. They
are similar but have a different management structure involving
greater participation of local community interests including trustees
of amalgamated schools and/or local religious interests, parents
etc. Many resulted from the amalgamation of Secondary and Vocational
schools. They receive 100% funding from the Department of Education
and do not charge fees but are required to make a relatively small
local contribution towards buildings and equipment.
Almost identical to Community schools, but differ in that
they are administered and funded by the VEC. Many Vocational schools
have dropped the word 'vocational' and now use the term 'community
State provision takes four major forms. Infant classes in
Primary schools which are regarded as pre-school education, cater
for 95% of all 5-6 year olds at senior infants level and 59% of
4-5 year olds at junior infants level. In addition, there are
33 Early Start programmes being offered in Primary schools in
disadvantaged areas and 50 pre-schools for the children of the
Travelling community. All of these are the responsibility of the
Department of Education. In addition, the Department of Health
provides community play groups and day care centres.
Private and voluntary provision includes privately funded nursery
schools. These are mainly Montessori schools for 3-5 year olds
catering for 2.5% of this age group. There are also 252 Naionraí
(Irish speaking or bilingual groups) which cater for 2,900 children
which is approximately 2.5% of 3-5 year olds. There also exists
over 1,600 registered playgroups.
Presently, a fire certificate, planning permission and compliance
with the Health and Safety at Work Act is all that is required
when establishing a preschool facility. However, the 1991 Child
Care Act (when implemented in 1996) will require all child care
facilities to register with the Health Boards.
The funding system from the Health Boards for preschool groups
in the Republic of Ireland appears to operate on an ad hoc basis.
It is possible to receive a block grant of approximately £500
per year but it may not be awarded every year.
The 'Early Start' programme is run by the Department of Education
in disadvantaged inner city areas. It began with eight centres
and a further 25 were to be established during the 1995-96 school
year. The centres are attached to primary schools and are staffed
by two primary school teachers and two qualified child care assistants.
The centres are free and provide for 60 pupils between the ages
of three and four (two classes of 15 in the morning and two in
the afternoon). Each centre receives a start-up grant of £4,500
plus £1,500 per annum for the development of parental involvement
and a capitation grant of £55.
Tensions between the playgroup sector and the Early Start programme
have been identified. In some areas the two approaches are perceived
to be 'competing' for the same children, there is some resentment
that the longer established playgroup sector is not funded by
the Department of Education and that the Early Start programme
gives a prominent role to teachers who may not have specialised
in preschool education.
Most qualified teachers working with this age group will have
completed a three year B.Ed degree course. Other courses available
for those wishing to work in the preschool sector include:
- Montessori - two year, full-time course.
- Diploma in Nursery Nursing - two year, full-time course validated
by the National Nursery Examination Board (NNEB).
- National Vocational Certificate in Child Care, level 2 which
is validated by the NCVA (required to work as an assistant in
the Early Start programme).
- Introductory Playgroup Course - minimum of 20 hours run by
- Naionraí operate two, one-week intensive courses through
Irish and leaders are encouraged to undertake other training courses
(A one-year course has been drawn up but funding is not available)
Since 1995 a BA in Early Childhood Studies is being offered within
University College Cork.
Issues of importance within the sector concern the appropriateness
of learning environments and teacher:pupil ratios for four year
olds within Primary schools,7 liaison between the Education and
Health Departments within Government and relative emphasis on
pre-schooling or child-care.
In Northern Ireland there have been recent proposals to transfer
administrative responsibility for funding Further Education from
the Education and Library Boards to the Department of Education.
Amalgamations have also reduced the number of Colleges of Further
Education in Northern Ireland to 24. The colleges allow access
to students who wish to complete or return to second-level education,
or who wish to proceed to further vocational and technological
education. The colleges therefore provide an important additional
route into higher education as well as leisure and community education
courses. During 1993-94 there were 46,680 students in non-vocational
courses at Colleges of Further Education. During the same period
there were 23,125 students in full-time and 58,398 in part-time
Similar levels of access have been more difficult to achieve in
the Republic of Ireland where there is no equivalent to Colleges
of Further Education. The White Paper acknowledges the need for
a new organisational structure for Further Education. It is anticipated
that the vocational education and training and adult education
sectors will be more coherently planned and certificated. A Further
Education Authority is to be established to co-ordinate provision,
advise the Minister, to allocate budgets and to liaise with the
new certification body - Teastas.
In the Republic of Ireland a 5-level framework for vocational
qualifications certificated by the NCVA has recently been introduced.
A National Foundation Certificate will cater for those with poor,
or no formal qualifications; NCV1 will be available within the
Senior cycle; NCV2 will apply to the wide range of relatively
new Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses. Foundation Certificate,
NCV1 and NCV2 will be provided in second-level institutions and
also in recognised vocational education and training centres such
as Youthreach, travellers workshops etc. NVC2 and upwards lead
to further and higher education and employment.
Post Leaving Certificates (PLCs) were developed over the last
eight years, especially by the Vocational Education Committees
(VECs), because many students were failing to get into third-level
education. Arrangements were made with third-level institutions
for enhanced points for these courses (DIT - Dublin Institute
of Technology, and RTCs - Regional Training Centres, both statutory,
self-governing institutions which provide some degree courses).
Students could then re-apply as 'non-standard applicants'. Originally
many such courses were certificated by the U.K. based BTEC and
City and Guilds. PLCs appeared to be more readily accepted in
UK universities and this may have been due to greater availability
of places there. The NCVA, whose certification is recognised in
the UK, France and other EU countries, has now made moves to start
validating Post Leaving Certificates and some colleges which specialise
in PLC qualifications have begun to appear (mainly in the VEC
sector). Currently there are almost 18,000 PLC students.
A problem for PLC students is that they are regarded by the Department
of Education as second-level students and thereby do not have
access to third-level grants.
Both jurisdictions are developing more modular courses which should
increase flexibility and ease of transfer. Both Departments of
Education have stressed the need to monitor standards to ensure
that they are in line with other EU countries.
Initial teacher training
In Northern Ireland there are two teacher training colleges
both based in Belfast. They reflect the religious and cultural
segregation of the education system in the North in that St. Mary's
is a Catholic teacher training college whilst most teachers who
train at Stranmillis College enter the profession in 'predominantly
Protestant' controlled schools. Both colleges cater for the primary
sector, mainly through 4-year B.Ed degree courses. Both colleges
also offer some secondary provision and intakes are subject to
quotas set by DENI. For 1995 the intakes were:
Table 2.1: Intakes to teacher training colleges: Northern
Source: Dept. of Ed. Primary Teacher Training Section
|St. Mary's||96 primary||42 secondary
Almost 75% of all second-level teachers are trained at Queen's
University Belfast and the University of Ulster at Coleraine and
Jordanstown which offer specialised PGCE courses to graduates
who have completed degree programmes. Recent announcements suggest
that in future the universities will concentrate on PGCE courses
and the colleges on undergraduate degree programmes.
Cutbacks in projected requirements for secondary teachers led
to a stipulation from DENI that approximately 80% of students
entering teacher training colleges in 1995-96 must opt for primary
teaching and students applying for the B.Ed secondary course will
have to choose from the three main academic subjects (Business
Studies, Technology and Design and Religious Studies).
In the Republic of Ireland, at primary level, there are four teacher
training colleges in Dublin and one in Limerick. They are privately
managed and largely financed by the State. The two largest (St.
Patrick's, Drumcondra and Mary Immaculate, Limerick) account for
85% of all primary teacher training. A three-year B.Ed degree
includes teaching practice in each year. In 1995 the numbers of
trainee primary teachers enrolled in each college were :
Table 2.2: Intakes to teacher training colleges: Republic
of Ireland 1995/96
Source: Irish Times Educational Supplement, 31/1/95
|St. Patrick's, Drumcondra||177
|St. Mary's, Marino||42
|Church of Ireland||32
|Mary Immaculate, Limerick||175
Almost all second level teachers are trained within universities
mainly by a consecutive route leading to a degree and the Higher
Diploma in Education. Some concurrent degrees are offered in the
University of Limerick and St. Angela's College (home economics)
through University College Galway. The quota on the number of
H.Dip places for 1994-95 was 800.
In Northern Ireland there are approximately 20,000 full-time
students at undergraduate level in the two main universities (Queen's
University, Belfast and the University of Ulster which operates
through four campuses at Coleraine, Jordanstown, Magee and Belfast.
In the Republic of Ireland, the National University of Ireland
operates through three constituent colleges (University College
Cork, University College Galway, University College Dublin) and
St. Patrick's College, Maynooth. The other universities are the
University of Dublin (Trinity College), Dublin City University
and the University of Limerick. The enrolment figure for the university
sector during 1993-94 was 51,000.
Other degree granting institutions in the Republic of Ireland
- Dublin Institute of Technology
This is an amalgamation of six colleges run by the City of Dublin
Vocational Committee. It was established as a single statutory
self-governing institution in 1992. Its degree courses are validated
by the University of Dublin. The enrolment for 1993/94 was 10,000
and application for admission is through the CAO.
- Regional Technical Colleges
There are eleven colleges in the Republic of Ireland offering
a wide range of courses in business studies, science, technology
and engineering. In addition to National Certificates and Diplomas,
a limited number of degrees are awarded by the National Council
for Education Awards. Enrolment in 1993/94 was 22,000 and application
is made through the CAO.
There has also been a considerable growth in the number of private
colleges becoming involved in third level education.
The Open University (OU) which is involved in distance learning,
operates throughout Ireland from an administrative base in Belfast.
In Northern Ireland it has over 2,000 registered students and
operates through nine study centres. In 1993 the total number
of undergraduates was 3,156 including those enrolled in study
centres in the Republic of Ireland.16 In April 1996 an enquiry
and advice centre was opened by the OU in Dublin to meet the growing
demand for places.
In the Republic of Ireland there were 6,600 mature students attending
at higher education in 1993-94 of which 75% were part-time. The
1,697 full-time mature students represent less than 5% of all
full-time students. This is very low by EU standards. The proportion
in the United Kingdom for example is five times the level in the
Republic of Ireland.
The universities in both jurisdictions are autonomous bodies
and have reciprocal arrangements for recognition of A-level and
Leaving Certificate results. Applications for admission are slightly
different. Application to universities in Northern Ireland and
the rest of the U.K. is made through the Universities and Colleges
Admissions System (UCAS) and offers of places are made to students
before they sit their final year examinations at school (offers
are usually conditional on results). In the Republic of Ireland
applications are made through the Central Applications Office
(CAO) which operates a points system based on examination results
and offers are made only after final year examination results
have been published.
Participation rates and movement between jurisdictions
In Northern Ireland student:staff ratios have been increasing
(from 9.5 in 1984, to 13.9 in 1989, to 16.4 in 1994), and a significant
increase in the age participation index (API) from 22.6 in 1989
to 38.6 in 1994. API gives an indication of the percentage of
young people from Northern Ireland entering higher education.
Scotland and Northern Ireland have the highest API in the UK.
Approximately 40% of Northern Ireland students attend universities
outside the State. This is partly due to preference and also because
admission is easier in some UK universities, especially the former
In the Republic of Ireland participation rates in higher education
have increased from 20% of the age cohort in 1980 to 40% in 1994.
About half of these take degree programmes.
Approximately 85% of undergraduates in Northern Ireland are from
Northern Ireland (10% are from the Republic of Ireland and 5%
from Great Britain and overseas). The estimated enrolments of
Northern Ireland domiciled full-time, undergraduates for 1995/96
Table 2.3: Estimated enrolments of Northern Ireland domiciled
undergraduates for 1995/96
Source: DENI, (1994), The Education Services in
Northern Ireland: A Strategic Analysis
|Universities Northern Ireland||16,741
|Teacher training colleges Northern Ireland
|Institutions Great Britain||12,000
In the Republic of Ireland the enrolments in higher education
Table 2.4: Republic of Ireland enrolments in higher education
Source: Dept. of Ed., Brief Description of the Irish
Education System 1995
|Teacher training colleges (Republic)||1,800
|Technological colleges (Republic)||34,600
During 1995 it was estimated that the number of students from
Northern Ireland enrolled in the Republic of Ireland was 1,700;
and the number of students from the Republic of Ireland enrolled
in Northern Ireland was 2,700.21
Fees and student grants
In Northern Ireland the fees for undergraduate and postgraduate
courses are usually paid by the State through the Education and
Library Boards. Since 1996 the Republic of Ireland has adopted
a similar policy as fees for third-level education will be abolished
(except in the cases of part-time students, postgraduates and
non-EU nationals). This has caused some fears that postgraduate
fees will increase because of the general abolition of fees at
undergraduate level and this could have implications for research
and development. Fees in the postgraduate sector will be paid
on the basis of means testing.
European Social Fund grants are available for designated courses
in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
In both jurisdictions the State pays (means-tested) maintenance
grants to students, although these are higher in Northern Ireland.
In Northern Ireland there are also arrangements through commercial
banks for student loan systems at low interest rates.
Student Grants in Northern Ireland
There are two types of grant which government may pay towards
student maintenance. These are 'mandatory grants' (if the course
is on the list of specified courses and the student is personally
eligible) or 'discretionary grants'. Basic grants for 1995-96
Table 2.5: Student grants Northern Ireland
Source: DENI, Grants and Loans to Students
|Students living at home||£1,530
|Students living away from home (London)
|Students living away from home (outside London)
Student Loans in Northern Ireland
Students can apply for a loan up to a fixed annual maximum
of approximately £1,200. Loans may be taken out in addition
to any student grant which has been awarded. They are not means-tested.
In the case of Northern students going to study in the Republic
of Ireland, fees and maintenance grant are paid, subject to eligibility,
as in Northern Ireland, but not loans. This appears to be because
of the nature of administration of loans which is partly through
the universities and colleges. Eligibility for loans is decided
by the college concerned and the loan is paid by the Student Loans
Disability Grants in Northern Ireland
There are a number of provisions for third-level students
with disabilities. Up to £3,650 is available for special
equipment related to educational needs (this is a once-off grant).
A further £4,850 (maximum) is available per year for a carer,
and up to £1,215 per year for other extra costs. The allowances
are means-tested. Extra allowances are also available for travelling
Disability Grants in the Republic of Ireland
The National University of Ireland offers grants for students
with severe physical disabilities of up to £500 per annum,
tenable for three years. The number of awards made is determined
by the Vice Chancellor. The Department of Education has a central
fund for students with disabilities. The fund was first established
in 1994. For 1995/96 the fund stands at £105,000. Applications
are made through the college concerned and awards are discretionary.
Other benefits, such as the Disabled Persons Maintenance Allowance,
Disability Benefit, Blind Persons Pension, Mobility Allowance
(some of which are means tested), may be retained while attending
third-level education and are unaffected by being in receipt of
fees and maintenance payments. However, the Association for Higher
Education Access and Disability (AHEAD) recently produced a report
which is critical of the allowances and provision in the Republic
of Ireland compared to the situation in the U.S. and Sweden.
Student Grants in the Republic of Ireland
From April 1996 a capital means test will be introduced in
addition to the existing income test. Tax relief on covenants
will be abolished.
Table 2.6: Maximum student maintenance grants: Republic
Source: Irish Times, Education and Living Supplement,
|Students living at home||£637
|Living away from home||£1,600
The income threshold is to rise by 2.4%, so a family with four
children will receive a full maintenance grant up to an income
of approximately £16,000 and will receive half-maintenance
up to approximately £17,800. A family with two children at
college at the same time can add another £2,000 on to these
limits (with three children this becomes £4,000).
Grant application procedures are to be simplified to a centralised
agency and a single grant system. Previously there were three
different types of grants administered by 70 VECs and local authorities.
A recent report has recommended a student loan
system to supplement the grants. The report also stressed the
inadequacy of the maintenance grants for students from disadvantaged
backgrounds. The Ordinary Irish Higher Education Grants scheme
applies to students going to Northern Ireland to study. Up to
now this grant was not payable outside the island of Ireland.
From September 1996 it will apply to the rest of the UK and the
|1. ||Department of Education, (1995), Brief Description of the Irish Education System, Government Publications
|2. ||Eagriocht na Scoileanna Gaeltachta
|3. ||ASTI, (1995), Convention Handbook
|4. ||O'Flaherty L., (1992), Management and Control in Irish Education: The Post Primary Experience, Drumcondra Teachers' Centre, Dublin
|5. ||Department of Education, (1995), Early Start Programme
|6. ||Irish Times, (1995), Irish Times Education Supplement 24/4/95 and 26/9/95
|DENI, (1994), Information Brief on Education in Northern Ireland
|7. ||Douglas, F. & Horgan, M., (1996), 'Intellectual Development and Early Childhood Education in the Republic of Ireland' in Curriculum, vol. 17 no. 2, Autumn
|8. ||Irish Times, (1995), Education and Living 25/4/95
|9. ||DENI, (1995), Compendium of Northern Ireland Education Statistics
|10. ||NCVA, (1995), Guide to Level 2 Awards
|11. ||Department of Education, (1995), White Paper: Charting our Education Future, Government Publications, Dublin
|12.||Irish Times, (1995), Irish Times Education Supplement 28/3/95
|13. ||St. Mary's College, (1995), A Short Guide to Courses for Applicants, 1995-1996, Belfast
|14. ||DENI, (1994), The Education Services in Northern Ireland: A Strategic Analysis
|15. ||Department of Education, (1995), Brief Description of the Irish Education System, Government Publications
|16. ||DENI, (1994), The Education Services in Northern Ireland: A Strategic Analysis
|17. ||Aontas, (1996), The Irish Times, 4 April
|18. ||Aontas, (1995), 'A Special Report', Irish Times, 6 September
|19. ||DENI, (1994), The Education Services in Northern Ireland: A Strategic Analysis
|20. ||Department of Education, (1995), White Paper: Charting our Education Future, Government Publications, Dublin
|21. ||Thornhill, D., (1995), Official Perspectives, presentation to ASTI Conference 11/11/95
|22. ||Irish Times, (1995), Irish Times Supplement 25/4/95
|23. ||DENI, Grants and Loans to Students - A Brief Guide
|24. ||Irish Times, (1995), Education and Living 9/5/95
|25. ||de Butléir, (1993), 'Third Level Student Support', Report of the Advisory Committee on Third Level Student Support, Government Publications, Dublin
|26. ||Irish Times, (1995), Education and Living 14/2/95
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