The Technological Higher Education Association (THEA) very much welcomes this first extended completion analysis across the entire higher education sector. We compliment the HEA for engaging in such a longitudinal study and for the attendant analysis. As a sector, we have been examining progression and successful completion in this manner for the best part of a decade. This is the first time that we see an entire cohort of students tracked from entry to completion and over an extended period. We welcome the analysis and the valuable insights the report provides and it invites further study and even closer tracking of individual student choices. Such further analysis is required in order to understand the nature of student attrition; student non completion is not a universally negative phenomenon and the study proposes that students are making informed choices. With respect to the further information that would be desirable, we cannot see here, for example, the full numbers of students who change HEI and complete their studies in a different institution, or the numbers of students who enter full-time employment. Nevertheless, this report gives us a much richer picture than we have had heretofore. It reaffirms our position internationally and it is encouraging to see from the statistics that in terms of international benchmarks, Ireland continues to perform well, despite the fact that this study followed cohorts of students throughout the worst years of the most recent recession. It also poses real challenge in understanding why some students on low entry points ultimately succeed while others don’t.
The importance of prior educational attainment as an indicator of success is affirmed and the level of prior capacity in such as numeracy and achievement in Leaving Certificate mathematics has also been previously discussed and clearly constitutes a contributing factor to the high attrition rate in the areas of engineering and computing. However a high attrition rate in hospitality, tourism, and related services suggests that the dynamic here is somewhat more complex and might relate to perceptions of a given industry and consistency of reward. It may also point to a conscious decision on the part of students, in at least some cases, to enter employment rather than progress to graduation and we need to carry out further research in order to understand this.
As a higher education sector, it is perhaps most notable from this report, that after controlling for the set of students, course, and institute characteristics, progression rates normalise across all institutions. We anticipate that a further report soon to be published by the HEA around graduate outcomes will show that across the board, graduate outcomes are extremely positive. This can be a positive message for many students entering higher education with low prior attainment, or those from disadvantaged socio-economic groups who progress to graduation.
It is clear that the profiles of students entering higher education differ from institution to institution and across the sectors. As a diverse technological sector, our members work hard to understand how to target the limited educational resources and funding in order to achieve the best outcomes for students. It is clear that other factors - such as prior attainment in numeracy and literacy, gender, age, socio-economic environment, first-year experience - need to be weighed as we act on the findings of this report and seek to influence the factors that support successful outcomes for higher education students.
Dr Joseph Ryan, CEO, THEA