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Press Releases

Statement from Dr Joseph Ryan, CEO THEA on HEA Progression Rates study

Posted on: 18 May 2018

Statement from Dr Joseph Ryan, CEO Technological Higher Education Association (THEA) upon publication by the Higher Education Authority of their report on progression rates in third level institutions.

“The Technological Higher Education Association (THEA) welcomes the publication by the Higher Education Authority of the latest study of progression in higher education.  This is a valuable snapshot of statistical information around student numbers and their progression rates from 1st year to 2nd year in the higher education sector.  We with the broad technological sector employ the report annually to assist the sector in identifying the effect of the enhancing supports that are in place to increase student retention and success rates.  It is clear that much work still needs to be done in order to understand further the actual insights that can be gained and the additional actions that can be taken in order to identify vulnerable cohorts and students and to allocate the supports required in order to increase overall progression rates.

“We are seeing modest improvement year on year and it provides some evidence that responses to date are having positive impact.   We note the report identifies certain groups of students who are more at risk than their peers of not progressing in their studies:

  • students from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds;
  • students with lower previous academic attainment; and
  • students entering the system at level 6 and level 7.


“The Institutes of Technology by their very nature, attract and encourage disproportionately more of these students to enter third level education.  This year for the first time, the analysis allows for variability factors such as this and finds that when this disproportionality is allowed, the analysis shows that the progression rates of students in the Institutes of Technology are as high as in many traditional universities.  This is supportive of the targeted innovative pedagogical approaches being adopted in the sector. 

“This report quantifies the extent of non-progression rates.  But it cannot highlight the personal stories and insights that lie behind the statistics: where do these students go, how many of them change course early on and continue to complete their higher education journey or how many actually enter employment and continue to contribute to the local economy?   We continue also to monitor the varying retention and success rates evident in different domains of study. 

“THEA is about to initiate a qualitative analysis of student retention in order more fully to understand these indicators.  We hope that by undertaking this piece of research, we can build upon the findings of this report, particularly those relating to previous academic attainment, and more fully understand the factors that influence students to progress successfully from year to year. As part of this research, we hope to deliver insights around what supports and interventions learners require in order to progress through their entire programme of higher level education.  Prior educational attainment, family context, socio-economic profile are all fundamental elements in this picture and a greater understanding can assist in ensuring that resources are targeted where they are most needed. 

“We have argued for increased funding for the sector and have welcomed the announcement of capital investment made by the Department earlier in the year.  We are hoping that the retention study that we are about to undertake will provide the evidence-base for an inclusive discussion around support for students and will highlight and quantify the nature of the investment priorities that must be made in order to ensure that the prospect of success for students is as high as it might be.”



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