The Higher Education Authority, HEA, has recently published its latest study of progression in Irish higher education, which provides an analysis of data relating to non-progression in 2013-14 of full-time undergraduate new entrants to HEA funded institutions. The study shows that the proportion of new entrants who did not progress overall is 15% across all sectors and National Framework of Qualifications, NFQ, levels. This compares with 16% in 2012-13. That is a small improvement.
Below average progression rates continue in the fields of construction and related services, computer science and engineering, with variation between sectors and institutions. There is, however, some improvement reported in progression rates for computer science, with rates increasing from 80% to 84%. Institutes of technology rates have increased from 74% to 80% compared with universities from 85% to 88%. This would indicate that the funding made available for retention measures is having a positive impact.
One of the key objectives my Department has set for higher education is to improve equity of access and student pathways. The HEA works with the institutes to improve recruitment and to tackle early dropout. There are a wide range of initiatives that can contribute to better recruitment and retention. These include access programmes, surveys of student experiences, extra tuition in areas of known difficulty, and improvements in first year experience.
The HEA is working to ensure good practice in this area is disseminated and implemented across all institutions and disciplines. The HEA has produced a discussion paper on the factors that contribute to student success. A working group has been established, which is chaired by the HEA, and it comprises representatives from across the higher education sector. The intention is to identify the type of strategies and measures that have been shown to be successful in different institutional contexts. The national forum for the enhancement of teaching and learning is facilitating a focused scoping exercise to inform the activities of the working group. The scoping exercise is being chaired by the Union of Students of Ireland. This will ensure the student voice is central to this process. It is expected that the working group will produce its report by the end of 2017.
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The research shows that there are certain factors consistently associated with non-progression in courses. These include prior educational attainment and parental occupation. Colleges are encouraged to develop access and progress in their strategies. A role can also be played by broadening the choice of education and training paths available to students, and my ambition is that 20% of pupils would have the option of apprenticeships or traineeships in the coming years.