Irish education: What’s the score?

With studies giving contradictory conclusions on Ireland’s educational performance, questions remain about the quality of education at a time when the Irish economy needs to complement its return to growth with skilled jobs, writes Fergal Browne.

At the recent Irish Economic Policy Conference 2015 in the Institute of Banking, work by Tony Fahey (UCD) entitled “Family and Fertility in Ireland: A Human Capital Perspective” highlighted both positive and negative study results with regards Irish education.

The Pisa education study of the 35 most developed countries in the OECD, which measures amongst other things literacy and numeracy of 15 year-olds, found Ireland to be the fourth best performing nation in these measures.

Coupled with this, Ireland has the fifth highest birth rate in the OECD. Only Mexico, Turkey, Chile and Israel have higher rates.

This, according to Fahey, left Ireland in the unique position of all the countries studied in having high birth rates and strong educational performance.

While that seemingly bodes well, Fahey pointed to another more recent study, entitled PIACC, which presents Ireland’s educational performance poorly. The study, unlike Pisa, measures the numerical and literacy ability of adults not 15 year-olds in developed countries. It found Ireland is the third worst performing nation for educational aptitudes amongst developed nations and well below average overall.

“The only way we can explain this contradiction between the two studies is that they are not looking for the same factors”, says Fahey.

Taken together, these major comparative studies give unclear conclusions of Ireland’s educational performance.

Meanwhile, concerns have been highlighted that students are not being taught the necessary work skills at third-level, especially with regards the high-skilled multinational sector.

25,000 more people are employed in the multinational sector now than in 2011 meaning it comprises 10% of Ireland’s total workforce.  Multinationals favour employees with strong problem-solving skills most, something Irish students are below average at compared to other developed countries, according to both of the above mentioned studies.

The American Chamber of Commerce has highlighted concerns previously about Ireland’s skill shortage. In 2011, it said US companies in Ireland were looking for 2,000 skilled workers, particularly in IT, but the jobs could not be filled due to the lack of the required skill set in the Irish economy. This was at a time when 440,000 people were on the live register.

In response the government launched the Springboard initiative where the state subsidises students who wish to study in areas where there’s a skill shortage.

The complexity of Ireland’s educational difficulties and bridging the gap between education and working skills is highlighted in a further OECD study, which showed Ireland has the highest amount of 25-34 year olds in Europe who have finished a third-level education course.

Conversely, at 21% Ireland also had the highest amount of NEETS, which are 15-29 year olds who are neither employed nor in education or training, according to the 2012 study. The average in developed countries is 15%.

Despite these difficulties, the perception amongst the American multinationals based in Ireland remains extremely positive with the belief amongst the 400 members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland is that we are getting it right both politically and economically.

“The key ingredient most acknowledged by the parent companies back in the US is the ‘can-do’ attitude of the Irish workforce”, Mark Redmond from the American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland told The Irish Times.

Why languages can make a difference to your career

Joanne Grant, managing director JCDecaux Ireland, Philippe Milloux, director, Alliance Francaise Dublin, Minister Dara Murphy, Gerry O'Sullivan, head of international education, HEA and Sinéad D'Arcy, Jameson graduate programme manager

Joanne Grant, Managing Director JCDecaux Ireland, Philippe Milloux, Director, Alliance Francaise Dublin, Minister Dara Murphy, Gerry O’Sullivan, Head of International Education, HEA and Sinéad D’Arcy, Jameson Graduate Programme Manager

The gradireland languages event, Wednesday, March 4th, is a great opportunity for those with two or more languages to meet some of Ireland’s best employers, writes Fergal Browne.

The GRADchances language fair, in partnership with the Higher Education Authority (HEA), is Ireland’s only dedicated language careers event, bringing together over 20 of Ireland’s top employers with bilingual and multilingual graduates and students.

In an increasingly global and connected world, and with Ireland one of the world’s most open economies, the ability to speak a foreign language is seen as a massive asset, in any sector.  “Whether in business, entrepreneurship, the EU institutions or international organisations; having a second language can open up doors to all sorts of varied careers at home and abroad”, says Minister for European Affairs and Data Protection Dara Murphy who speaks four different languages; English, Irish, French and German.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Gerry O’Suillivan, Head of International Programmes at the Higher Education Authority, HEA, as well. “The ability to communicate effectively is essential to forging successful relationships. To be able to do that brings a competitive advantage and is extremely useful in building trust and confidence with our overseas partners”.

The Irish business and employers association, Ibec, actively promotes the use of foreign languages amongst workers and hopes the gradireland event will raise awareness amongst students and graduates about how important language learning is for the Irish economy and their future careers.

“Ireland is one of the most open, globalised economies in the developed world, so competitiveness is key. Our companies need to be proficient in the language of their customer”, says Tony Donohoe, Ibec’s Head of Education, Social and Innovation Policy.

“Six years ago the European Council challenged us to move away from an ‘official but lame bilingualism’ of English and Irish to a society where the ability to learn and use two and more languages is taken for granted”, he adds.

Last year’s gradireland languages event attracted over 700 bilingual and multilingual graduates with fluency in 76 languages with some meeting their future employers at the event.

“I introduced myself to the HEA, had a brief chat with them and just left my CV with them not expecting much”, says Mariana Reis from Brazil who graduated from International Business and Spanish in DIT in 2014. Two weeks later she received a phone call which led to part-time work while she finished her degree. She was made full-time at the HEA as an Executive Officer last June. She uses four languages in her role; her native Portuguese, English, Spanish and Italian.

Recruiters will be looking for graduates across a range of sectors particularly engineering, marketing, sales, legal, management and IT while the major European languages, Mardarin and Russian were the most sought after languages, although employers emphasise any foreign language is a major asset.

For more information on the event, see the language fair website.

Combining a postgrad and work with distance learning

Distance LearningDistance learning in postgraduate education has risen in the last decade on the back of greater flexibility and suiting the needs of the modern worker, writes Fergal Browne.

Distance learning has increased massively in recent years. The Open University (OU), the oldest distance learning university in the British Isles, is now the largest academic institution in the United Kingdom and Ireland catering to almost 250,000 students, 50,000 of which are overseas.

OU was first created in 1969, so the concept is not new but with the rise of fast and ubiquitous internet, the advantages of this style of postgraduate learning has increased, especially for people working full-time.

“It’s ideally suited to full-time workers”, says Susan Sharkey from the Open University Ireland. “Nowadays, all the courses are online and we are across a whole range of degree subjects. There’s a massive support network for students whether by phone, email, online forums or online classrooms with all materials supplied, and the majority of courses provide a one-on-one tutor. We have amongst the highest student satisfaction rates in the UK and Ireland”, she says.

Unlike in universities where you have to go on campus and attend lectures at set times, in distance learning, students can tailor their degrees with their work needs. “You take it on a module-by-module basis. It’s stretched over a longer period of time so you can fit it around your working schedule”, adds Susan.

Patrick O’Hare studied an undergraduate degree in Marketing in DIT and moved into a full-time marketing position at an SME after finishing university. While there, he did a Postgraduate Diploma in Digital Marketing at the Digital Marketing Institute.

“My undergraduate degree covered all aspects of marketing so I wanted to specify and felt digital marketing was a growth area and something I’m passionate about”, says Patrick who set up his own website shortly after finishing the postgraduate diploma. “It augmented the experience I was getting in my role at the time and with it I was able to implement my own marketing strategy as a result,” he adds.

Patrick says he was never concerned that the degree wouldn’t be recognised by employers in the same way that a degree in a ‘bricks and mortar’ university would. “You do hear stories about degrees that have no accreditation whatsoever, but I was comfortable this wasn’t the case here. It had a lot of accreditation and from my research seemed to be really valued by employers”, says Patrick.

“In the past that perception was there but that’s just not an issue anymore. All the courses are FETAC-accredited and on the same level as any other university in Ireland. The only piece of advice we would give is that, as students study with us from across the world, make sure the degree is recognised in your country. But in Ireland, that’s never an issue”, affirms Susan.

The Postgraduate Diploma in Marketing course is mixed between distance learning and attending the tutorials in the institute. “The tutorials take place at the weekend so you could attend if you wished. But they were all recorded so you could watch online later. It was really good and flexible in that sense,” says Patrick. “Separately they also did what were called ‘webinars’ where all the students would login remotely and a lecturer would be live and answer any questions that a student typed in”, he adds.

This flexibility extends to the range of modules students can do too. “STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) have been big in the last few years. For example, you get a lot of teachers looking to do a topic they haven’t covered in an undergrad, for example, maths. So they go to the Open University, get the qualification and they have permission from the Teaching Council to teach the subject. We get that a lot in business and management too”, says Susan.

Funding distance learning is often tailored to the need of full-time workers. “A 60 credit module course would cost in and around €3,000 at the Open University”, says Susan. “But that includes everything. All course material and there’s no relocation or commuting costs. Students can pay monthly, the state gives tax relief for further study and in a lot of cases employers fund the course in part. There are a lot of options”.

Available options for funding fourth level

Funding-for-SMEsFinding fourth-level university funding can be difficult, to put it mildly, writes Fergal Browne. There’s been a reduction in the amount of funding both universities and state institutions offer to students. Nevertheless, funding is still out there. Here’s a rundown of some of the funding options, at various levels, which are available.

University funding: One result of Ireland’s economic difficulties in recent years was the increase in postgraduate study as people attempted to upskill and gain an edge in an economy with less jobs and a more competitive market. Therefore, in order to attract Ireland’s best performing students to its postgraduate programmes, certain universities offer funding to top-performing students. NUI Galway, for example, offers €1,500 to any graduate seeking to study a master, who earns a First in an undergraduate degree. Each university varies in terms of what it offers so check the website of the relevant third-level institution to see what’s available.

Scholarships abroad: Many graduates in niche third-level institutions provide scholarships for students who wish to study there. Le Cordon Bleu, a top-class culinary school based in cities across the world, including London and Paris, runs cooking heats in the UK and Ireland with the winners receiving a fully-paid scholarship with the school in London for nine-months all expenses paid. Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London, which offers courses to those who want to move into the art business, offers scholarships for certain MA courses and provides funding based on the income of its students. For the United States, Irish students receive funding to study, research or teach in the U.S under the Fulbright Awards, while a range of grants are in place to study English courses in universities across continental Europe including a grant by the German Academic Exchange Service which gives students who study in German a monthly allowance of €750 and a lump sum for travel costs.

Loan options: Most lending institutions will provide loans to those wishing to do postgrads. Bank of Ireland, for example, offers its account holders a loan up to €7,500 at a variable rate of 5.5% with the first 12 months deferred in terms of repayment. Credit unions will also offer students a loan option although this may vary from different local branches. Generally, the loan rate is around 6%.

Springboard courses: Keep in mind there’s a certain number of courses which have no fees. They are subsidised by the state due to shortfalls in employment in these areas. This is something especially prevalent in the IT sector at the moment. For a full list of these courses, check out the springboard website.

Full-time employment, part-time postgrad: In many cases where the advantages of doing a postgrad benefit your employer, they will agree to fund your degree in part. This is particularly true in big graduate employers. Also, the state offers tax relief to those who do postgraduate degrees in a course with tuition fees up to a maximum of €7,000. For more details, see the revenue’s website.

The Irish Research Council: An agency of the Department of Education and Skills, this is the body to go to in terms of getting funding for fourth-level education from the state. Among the schemes the Council runs are the Employment Based Postgraduate Programme, which provides funding for companies to provide high-calibre researchers to work onsite and the Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship, which provides funding to suitably qualified research masters and doctoral candidates. Click here for further info.

Considering a postgrad and worried about costs? Continental Europe may offer the solution

Heidelberg - Home to one of Europe's best performing universities

Heidelberg – Home to one of Europe’s best performing universities

With fees to do postgraduate courses at universities in Ireland and the United Kingdom remaining high, continental European universities are increasingly attractive not just for those searching for adventure but for those with limited budgets, writes Fergal Browne.

Nearly 900 degree programmes are available in English in universities across continental Europe with the majority in countries with no or low tuition fees. Grants to incentivise students from abroad to study there are also widely available.

The Netherlands, which accounts for nearly a quarter of the English-language degree programmes in continental Europe, charges €1,950 per year in tuition fees, but for all EU students this is covered by a student loan provided by the Dutch Government.

In four European countries, the Scandinavian countries and Finland, there are no tuition fees at all, while in Germany and Austria, fees are minimal in public universities.

“There’s a divide between northern and southern Europe. The north offers a lot of degree programme in English as they recognise that the world’s global language is English”, says Guy Flouch, from EUNICAS, a support body which helps British and Irish students who wish to study in Europe.

“The vast majority of Master and PhD courses are free of charge in Germany. There is though a semester contribution, depending on the university, that may be up to €250 per semester. That applies to anyone. There’s no difference between an international student and a national student in Germany”, says Vanessa Huebner, the Programme Coordinator for German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD as per its German acronym).

This means that universities like the University of Heidelberg (ranked 70th in the Times Higher Education Rankings) or the Erasmus University in Rotterdam (72nd) perform very strongly academically and are also cheaper to attend.

DAAD, which functions as a support network for students studying in Germany, also provides students with a grant of €750 for living expenses while in Germany in addition to a lump sum for travel costs. Similar funding is available in other countries including the Netherlands.

“They want Irish students because Ireland has a younger population with more students, whereas across continental Europe the fertility rate is declining. ‘Get me Irish students’ is what they always tell me,” says Guy. Irish students also have higher completion rates in all courses than students in their home countries.

Entry requirements are generally low as well, meaning an appropriate undergraduate degree is usually all that’s required for postgrad study. “In other European countries, they have a much stronger belief in education as a right”, says Guy.

Those worried about the languages have little to fret about either, says Guy. “You can easily do a Masters and come home having not learned the language if you wanted to. Most people speak English, particularly young people”.

This also leads to unexpected advantages for those who need part-time work to fund their studies. “I just came back from the Netherlands. There I met Irish students who work in call-centres part-time with English because companies like Vodafone have bases over there. Others work in the trendy bars where everyone speaks English,” adds Guy.

For those in Germany, most Germans universities incentivise foreign students to learn the language by offering German classes in the third-level institution itself. Expensive evening classes are unnecessary.

Irish students on the EUNICAS database offer glowing reviews of their time spent abroad, not just in terms of high quality study. “I would repeat my decision to study in the Netherlands a thousand times over. Best decision I ever made”, said one Irish student.

Vanessa from DAAD says the most popular sector for Irish students to travel to study in Germany is Engineering. According to employability studies, graduates need to demonstrate to employers in the engineering sector that they can live abroad as opportunities remain limited in the sector in Ireland and studying abroad proves you can adapt to different cultures, which is a bonus to potential employers.

“Realistically there are some companies in the Engineering sector you’ll be hired to work for and straight away you’ll go to Saudi Arabia or Calgary in Canada so having that experience abroad is important”, says Angela Collins, Careers Advisor at Waterford Institute of Technology.

Of course the quality of life is an essential pull factor to studying abroad too. “I remember last March I was sitting outside in a café in Italy, sipping a double espresso and thinking ‘Damn. I wish I could be here for longer’. But for students it’s a very real opportunity”, says Guy.

The postgradireland fair: 12 third-level institutions who will be there!

Ireland’s biggest postgrad fair takes place in the Shelbourne Hall in the RDS in Dublin this Wednesday, February 11th. Here’s a rundown of some of the Irish and international third level institutions which will be on hand to give you the best advice on all their courses and your career options, writes Fergal Browne.

edge-hill1Edge Hill University: Voted University of the Year 2014 by the Times Higher Education Awards in England, the third level institution boasts a gorgeous campus near Liverpool in the North-West. It consistently excels in teaching among many other disciplines and is the top performing university in the region.

kclKing’s College London: The University is famous worldwide for its renowned alumni boasting poets like John Keats, and a host of Nobel prize winners including Desmond Tutu and, most recently, two physicians, Peter Higgs and Michael Levitt, who received the award in 2013. An astonishing 90% of King’s Master’s graduates are in work or further study six months after finishing with the median salary £26,000.

glacalGlasgow Caledonian University: The Scottish university offers a range of courses which are unique in their focus. The MSc Climate Justice is a globally unique Master’s which provides an in-depth understanding and knowledge about the principles that underpin climate justice, its MSc in International Banking, Finance and Risk Management offers a triple accreditation to branch across all sectors of banking , while its MA in TV Writing works directly with Shed Productions to give students relevant work experience. The third-level institution offers a range of courses with a 96.2% employment rate of graduates in employment or further study within six months.

dmi_3Digital Marketing Institute: The third-level institution based in Dun Laoighaire in Dublin focuses and excels in offering graduates the tools to be employed in digital roles with its Masters in Digital Marketing. Over 80% of last year’s postgraduate class found a digital job. The institute offers the Master’s degree as a two-year course.

bangor-uni_1Bangor University: The Welsh university offers top-class postgraduate courses coupled with a beautiful campus and proximity to some of the most beautiful parts of Great Britain. It’s the top university in Wales for student satisfaction, while some of its postgrad courses including Electronic Engineering, and Modern Languages and Culture have 100% of graduates in employment or further study within six months.

city-universityCity University London: The third-level institution located in the centre of Great Britain’s capital leads other universities in the region in education, research and enterprise for business and the professions. It ranks ninth in the whole country for graduates achieving graduate jobs soon after leaving the university.

CranfieldCranfield University: With two campuses based in Bedfordshire and Wiltshire in England, the third-level institution focuses specifically on postgrads and research. It puts an emphasis on fast-tracking graduates into relevant employment in the following areas: aerospace, automotive, defence and security, health, environoment, management and manufacturing sectors. 94% of its graduates are in relevant employment or further study six months after they finish.

sothebysSotheby’s Institute of Art: This Institute focuses specifically on graduates looking to work in the art sector. It boasts alumni now working in some of the most prestigious art museums in the world including the Guggenheim and the National Gallery (London). 25% of graduates start their own businesses as, for example, art consultants or dealers, while Master’s degree students have exclusive access to an online job portal where over 1,000 arts employers are registered.

hiberHibernia College: This is Ireland’s only government-accredited e-learning college. Specialising in health sciences, education/teaching and PhD research at postgrad level, it has a graduation rate of over 95% and produces more school teachers each year than any other teacher training college in the country. All its courses are either online or a mix between online and onsite.

stmarysSt Mary’s University, Twickenham: A London-based university that has a long history of providing outstanding teacher training. It is one of only a small number of Teacher Training Providers in the UK that has been awarded the grade ‘outstanding’ by OFSTED, an inspectorate for schools, for both primary and secondary provision. The university has a 100% employability rate from its Secondary PGCE course and 96% from its Primary PGCE course according to figures from the 2013/14 academic year.

uni-of-birminghamUniversity of Birmingham: Located in Britain’s second biggest city, the university offers 375 taught postgraduate programmes and a wealth of world-leading research opportunities. According to the Sunday Times University Guide 2014, the Birmingham institution was ranked eighth for employability, while a separate study published in the International Herald Tribune ranked the university 60th worldwide for employability.

Robert-Gordon1Robert Gordon University: The Aberdeen-based university ranks as one of Britain’s top third-level institutions with an astonishing 97% employability rate, according to a ‘destination of leavers’ study in 2012/13. The universities has been named the “Professional’s university” due to the strong correlation between area of study and employment in that sector. The university offers a range of postgraduate courses from architecture to the social sciences.

For more information on all the third-level institutions which will be at the postgrad fair, click here.

And don’t forget! Click here and register by midnight on Tuesday February 10th for free entry to the fair and be in with a chance to win a HP Tablet.

Bring along either a printout of your ticket or simply show the ticket on your phone to gradireland staff on the door. You can still attend the event on the day without registering. Cost is €5.

Get involved on the day by joining the discussion on Twitter at #postgradfair

Interested in further study? Sign up for Ireland’s largest postgraduate fair

postgrad fairThere’s less than one week to go until Ireland’s biggest postgrad fair takes place in the Shelbourne Hall in the RDS in Dublin, writes Fergal Browne.

Doors open at 11am next Wednesday, February 11th, and those who register for the event here will get free entry to the event, access to the best in further study advice and postgrad providers, and be in with a chance to win a HP Tablet.

With over 70 exhibitors coming from across Ireland and worldwide, it is the place where your research into postgraduate courses begins, whatever your area of interest. Forget trawling through each individual website of the various third-level institutions, come along to the event and get your questions answered.

There will also be a host of interesting seminars throughout the day, to find out about the newest trends and options in postgraduate study worldwide. Amongst the seminars you can find out all you need to know about conversion courses, something postgrad students are turning to more and more in order to diversify and specialise in certain career fields.

Guy Flouch from EUNICAS, which offers support to student looking to study across Europe, will offer advice on what English-speaking courses are available throughout Europe, while Rachael Farley, Postgraduate and EU Recruitment Manager for Edge Hill University in England, will tell you all you need to know about teacher training courses in the UK.

“While our research suggests a clear upturn in the economy, the marketplace remains extremely competitive. Therefore, students are recognising more than ever the necessity to have a strong academic background in order to gain graduate employment”, says gradireland publisher, Mark Mitchell.

According to gradireland research, a graduate with a postgraduate qualification is up to 40% more likely to find graduate employment within the first year after leaving university. “They have an advantage, especially with regards more technical disciplines like in the engineering and pharmaceutical industry”, adds Mark. “Not the mention in other sectors like media, where diversifying across different disciplines from your undergrad to your postgrad can be a major advantage”.

Click here to register by midnight on Tuesday February 10th for free entry.  Bring along either a printout of your ticket or simply show the ticket on your phone to gradireland staff on the door. You can still attend the event on the day without registering. Cost is €5.

Get involved on the day by joining the discussion on Twitter at #postgradfair