In 2017 more than half of Irish 30- to 34-year-olds completed third-level education, exceeding the EU target for 40pc. Furthermore Ireland has the lowest share of early school leavers.

Article by Ellie Donnelly on

Ireland has already significantly exceeded an EU target for 40pc of people between the ages of 30-34 to be educated to degree level.

One of Europe 2020 strategy’s targets is that at least 40pc of 30-34-year-olds in the bloc should have completed tertiary education by 2020.

Last year more than half of Irish 30- to 34-year-olds were found to have completed third-level education.

Only Lithuania and Cyprus had a higher share of college-educated people in the same age cohort, according to information from Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU.

However, Ireland actually lags the Government’s own 2020 target, which aims to have 60pc of the population between the ages of 30-34 complete tertiary education, according to numbers from the Department of An Taoiseach.

But the rationale for most people to hold a degree is increasingly being questioned.

Last month, Eoin O’Malley, director of the MSc in Public Policy at the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University, said people here will “soon need a PhD to pull a pint”.

Research last year showed Irish workers are among the most overqualified in Europe for the jobs they do.

Dr O’Malley said reliance on third level needed to be balanced by the apprenticeship system in Ireland.

The number of people in apprenticeships in Ireland is at about 8,000, a small fraction of the number in third-level colleges.

By contrast, in Germany as many as 60pc of school leavers take up apprenticeships, often followed by ongoing professional education.

Irish apprenticeships tend to be heavily weighted to the construction and craft sectors, although so called ‘white collar’ clerical skills including accountancy and banking courses are now coming onstream.

Overall, there has been a growth in the numbers of people in the EU between 30-34 having completed tertiary education, from a 23.6pc average in 2002 to a 39.9pc average in 2017.

This growth pattern was even more significant for women, where the share of 30- to 34-year-olds with a degree increased from one-in-four in 2002 to 44.9pc in 2017. For men, the numbers rose from 22.6pc in 2002 to 34.9pc last year.

At at other end of the scale the share of early leavers from education and training (aged 18-24) has steadily decreased in the EU, from 15.3pc in 2006 to 10.6pc in 2017, with young women less likely to leave school early than young men.

As well as raising the numbers educated to degree level, the Europe 2020 targets aim to reduce the rates of early school leaving in the EU to fewer than one in ten by 2020.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ireland had among the lowest share of ‘early school leavers’, along with Croatia, Poland and Slovenia in 2017. At the other end of the scale, Malta has the highest rate of ‘early school leavers’ in the EU.

Compared with 2006, the proportion of early leavers from education and training decreased in 2017 in all member states for which the time-series is available, with three exceptions.

The Czech Republic has experienced an increase to 6.7pc from 5.1pc, Romania saw an increase of less than 1pc, while in Slovakia the proportion of early leavers from education and training increased to 9.3pc in 2017 from 6.6pc in 2006.

Ireland was among 14 member states that have already fulfilled their 2020 national target for this indicator.

Meanwhile, the share of early leavers from education and training was lower for women than men in every EU members state, with the exception of Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.