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.

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.

GRADchances IT event points to a bright future for technology graduates

The gradireland GRADchances IT event showcased the skills of students and the needs of employers in a vibrant and growing tech-sector, writes Fergal Browne.

This event was held on January 29th at Chartered Accountants House, on Dublin’s Pearse Street, with over 70 specially selected students and five major technology employers present.

“The IT sector is booming. There’s a lot of jobs out there, so it’s just a matter of gaining the necessary skills, putting together a strong application and communicating well”, says Joanne Anderson who is doing a Honours degree in Computing at National College of Ireland.

“The industry has performed well, even during the recession”, says Trevor Joy, a Digital Forensics and Cyber Security student in IT Blanchardstown. “Even through those difficult times, the industry continued to grow”, he adds.

“It’s still a challenge though, because you’re competing for jobs not just with Irish applicants, but with applicants from all over the world. But there are definitely jobs out there and tech-security, I believe, will be the buzz word over the next five years or so,” Trevor added.

The annual IT event run by gradireland brings together pre-selected, soon-to-be graduate, IT students with employers eager to promote their businesses and graduate programmes.

Ericsson meeting IT students at the gradireland Gradchances event for IT student

Ericsson meeting IT students at the gradireland Gradchances event for IT student

“Nowadays, competition is fierce and we are competing with a lot of other big-name companies so it’s an opportunity to interact and engage with students and give them an insight into what we do”, says Denise Airlie from software development company, Guidewire.

A diverse range of businesses participated in the event, ranging from communications company Ericsson to Smyths Toystore, reflecting the range of sectors that IT transcends.

“IT is required across every field and is one of the strongest and most diverse sectors  in which to work”, says Swati Sehgal, who is currently doing a Masters in Computer Science in Trinity College, and says she is “very optimistic” of employment after graduation.

Companies not typically associated were IT were eager to demonstrate how important tech skills are to them.

“It’s probably something people don’t realise straight away, but we are a digital company”, says Katherine Norton, from Aer Lingus, which is currently accepting applications for its 2015 IT graduate programme.

This event is the first of two gradireland events in 2015 with a focus on technology. The second, taking place on April 8th, will target the STEM sector (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), and will offer IT students another chance to interact with some of Ireland’s top graduate employers.

As part of the GRADchances IT event, each employer set students a task where they were looking for them to demonstrate appropriate skills. “First of all we are looking for people with a strong technical aptitude. But we require our employees to become technical consultants, so communication and teamwork is very important also”, says Denise from Guidewire.

Aer Lingus set the task of students working in groups to come up with ‘the next big thing’ in mobile phone technology. “We are looking for people who are very good at problem-solving and are analytical. They have to have a passion for IT but also be aware of the business elements”, adds Katherine.

“Events like this are brilliant because IT is so vast in terms of the roles on offer. I feel I almost need to be in a company to see what I can offer them. Therefore, here it’s fantastic to see what companies are looking for and to see if I can demonstrate those abilities”, says Maurice Walsh, a final year student in Network Security and Digital Forensics.

“It’s great to have this first-hand knowledge of companies and to meet with them face-to-face to know what they’re looking for,” says Joanne. “It’s a great boost in terms of deciding on a future career.”

To keep up to date on upcoming events, register with gradireland today

The future jobs landscape: what’s in store for the class of 2020?

What jobs will be in demand for the graduate of 2020?

What jobs will be in demand for the graduate of 2020?

An article in last week’s Irish Times advised college students to pursue languages, learn IT skills, examine the burgeoning construction sector or get excited about engineering. That’s where, it is forecast, the jobs will be in 2019 or 2020, when the current intake of first year students graduate. Planning ahead is very important for first year students. The benefits of early engagement with careers advisers and potential employers at college is becoming increasingly apparent, with more companies making their presence felt on campus early in a student’s college life, and these same companies also view students who get active and stay involved with all aspects of college life and career planning as valuable future employee prospects. A student who is engaged early with their careers advisor will obviously be far more likely to be in tune with the employment landscape and where the jobs are being created. So how is this landscape shaping up?

According to Una Halligan, chair of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN); languages, IT (particularly data skills), construction, engineering, surveying and architecture are all disciplines with a healthy prognosis for the future. For languages, she told the Irish Times that English simply isn’t “good enough any more” and if we want to sell  ourselves at international level, students need to take what language skills they have at Leaving Cert level and work to develop them, even if they are not studying them at university. She suggests Erasmus programmes, fitting a language module into your studies or working overseas during the summer, anything that adds a level of immersion to your linguistic abilities. At gradireland we have been reinforcing the importance of languages over the past 18 months, with our languages fair, videos on the subject and articles on what differences languages have made to a student’s career. For our ‘Your career with languages’ sector guide, we spoke to graduates like Constance O’Brien of Slaney Foods International, who told us; “Initiating business with international clients through their own native language is a common courtesy that can often work to secure profitable and long standing business relationships in the future. If you want to travel for work, which is one of the main aspects I love most about my job, languages are obviously a distinct advantage, but even if you want to stay in Ireland, languages are still a great advantage to your career.”

Besides language skills, Una Halligan also earmarked IT as a sector that will continue to grow and require new graduate talent, particularly in the data sector, with the insurance, finance and banking sectors all requiring data analysts, with mathematical and statistical skills particularly in demand. This backs up the EGFSN and Forfás data from May of 2014 which said that Ireland has the potential to create 21,000 jobs by 20202 in the area of ‘big data.’ This finding anticipates 3,630 positions for ‘deep analytical roles’ and 17,470 for data ‘savvy’ roles. Find out more about the IT landscape in the gradireland IT sector guide.

Sectors such as biopharma and medical devices are also undergoing large recruitment drives, with skills such as electronic engineering and quality engineering in massive demand, added Una Halligan.

She added that the resurgent construction sector was seeing growth now that was more ‘measured’ than the explosion which preceded the financial crisis. Indeed the construction sector became the poster child for all that went wrong. With the resurgence in construction, the EGFSN are also predicting a knock-on boost for related disciplines such as quantity surveying and architecture. “By the time students graduate from quantity surveying or architecture courses, they will be coming out in a healthy position and those skills will always be wanted worldwide.” Una Halligan also reinforced the importance, where possible, of students studying a technical subject alongside an arts’ or humanities subject. Or if that is not possible, for students to get a part-time job that will exercise their technical or IT skills. “Those who do this will be work-ready when they leave college,” she added. Employability is what it is all about these days after all, and that is one thing that will not change for the class of 2019/2020.



Five things you should focus on in 2015

Some simple, straightforward tips from gradireland on how you can start the year on the right foot, whether you’re still considering your career path or are seeking a job.



Take control of what you can control

The graduate jobs market is demonstrably improving, but it’s still tough out there. There’s no point in stressing or complaining about things you can’t influence, so channel that energy positively into things you can control, such as planning your career path, focussing your mindset, building your network and seeking to boost employability skills. Oh yeah, what are they again?

Focus on employability skills

As we said in this blog, quoting a Manchester Director of Student Life, employability=qualifications + experience + skills x contacts . You need to view yourself as a portfolio of skills, in need of constant development. Focus on what value you can bring to potential employers. You can brainstorm your career options by assessing how your skills can meet the need of the employers you wish to work for and, of course, how you can fill in the gaps. In the current competitive economic environment, companies need their staff to deliver results quickly, so you need to demonstrate an ability to be dynamic, results driven and commercially aware.

Never stop learning and informing yourself

Even after you graduate, you need to look at how you can continue to develop yourself and your career. Someone who is constantly seeking to learn a new skill, boost an existing one or simply taking the time to listen and network with those who they can learn from makes for a well-rounded candidate. It’s not all about burying your head in study books either; online tutorials, YouTube videos and blogs all have a wealth of information which can be of assistance.

Stay positive

It’s important to keep a sense of perspective. You will lose as well as win, so don’t take every setback as a mortal blow. If things aren’t going well in your final year or if your job-hunt has stalled, get support, seek advice, show initiative and prove that you’re a problem solver. As Einstein said, it’s insanity to do the same thing over and over and expect different results.

Don’t waste your time (or an employer’s)

Don’t apply for a job in which you don’t think you will be happy, a recruiter will see right through this at interview (even if your application ticks all the necessary boxes). There are no sectors that are bulletproof in an economic recovery, and there are plenty where opportunities exist (contrary to popular opinion). Stick to what you believe and know you are good at, if you invest the time, application and dedication to obtaining the skills and putting together a good application, you will get noticed.

Check out gradireland’s careers advice section for more tips.


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