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.