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Minister Harris welcomes publication of OECD report on third level education

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Innovation, Research and Science, Simon Harris TD  has today welcomed this year’s OECD report, 'Education at a Glance' (EAG), which showed that the number of young people in Ireland attending third-level education is significantly above the OECD average.

The study found that:

  • Ireland ranks third in the OECD for the rate of 3rd level education attainment, at 54% compared to the average of 41%
  • The number of young people (18- 24 year olds) not in employment, education or training in 2021 has dropped from the previous year to 12.1% and well below the OECD average of 16.1%
  • 63% of 18-24-year olds in Ireland are in education, well above the OECD average of 54% and the EU22 average of 59%


Speaking today, Minister Harris said: “The publication of this report highlights the significant advancements we have made in third level education. We have continued to make important investments in further and higher education and these have been borne out by these positive trends.


“It also highlights areas we need to improve on too including access to part-time studies. I am pleased this is something we are beginning to work on with an expert group examining the issue. 

“We have a good track record in relation to third level education in Ireland, and I am pleased to see us building on this year on year. It is clear from the OECD report that Irish people understand its importance for their own well-being and success in life.

“Whether a higher or further education course, an apprenticeship, or even a short course to help you upskill, third level education proves to be an excellent start to those commencing their working life. I truly believe, and the statistics bear this out, that third level education empowers people to achieve their mission in life and reach their potential.




Notes to the Editor


Key stats:

Among 25-64 year-olds in Ireland, bachelor's degrees are the most common tertiary attainment at 29% of the population followed by master's degrees with 14% and short-cycle tertiary qualifications with 9%. This is similar to the OECD average, where bachelor’s degrees are most common (19%), followed by master’s degrees (14%) and short cycle tertiary qualifications (7%). As in all OECD countries and other participants, only a small fraction of the population holds a doctoral degree: the share is 1% in Ireland.


On average, tertiary attainment generates a wide range of labour-market benefits, including high employment rates. Yet, there are significant differences depending on the field of study. In 2021, employment rates in Ireland were highest among tertiary-educated individuals who studied engineering, manufacturing and construction with 95% and lowest among those who studied arts and humanities, social sciences, journalism and information at 77%. However, these differences need to be put into perspective. Even among 25-64 year-olds with tertiary attainment in the field with the lowest employment rate, this was 7.3 percentage points higher than among those with upper secondary attainment (all fields combined).


In most OECD countries including in Ireland, tertiary-educated adults have higher rates of participation in non-formal education and training than those with a lower level of educational attainment. In 2021, 13% of 25-64 year-olds with tertiary attainment in Ireland had participated in non-formal education and training in the four weeks prior to being surveyed, compared to 3% of their peers with below upper secondary attainment.


Over the decades, independent private institutions have been established to meet increased demand for tertiary education. On average across the OECD, 17% of students are enrolled in independent private institutions, but this figure masks large differences between countries. In Ireland, 4% of tertiary students are enrolled in such institutions. Independent private institutions charge higher annual tuition fees on average than public institutions for master’s programmes in all OECD countries and other participants with available data, except in Chile and Lithuania.


Enabling students to enrol on a part-time basis is an important way to facilitate access to tertiary education. Many part-time students would not be able to study full time, for example because they have child-care responsibilities or have to work to fund their studies. The share of part-time students at the tertiary level in Ireland is 19%, below the OECD average (22%). Compared to 2013, it has increased by 3 percentage points.