NI school leavers entering university reach record numbers

According to recent analysis by the Department for Education (DE), there has been a record increase in the proportion of school leavers entering university in Northern Ireland over the past two years.

The percentage of school leavers entering university in Northern Ireland reached a record high of nearly 48% in both 2020 and 2021. These figures reflect the rates seen in the region.

During these years, students received grades determined by schools following the cancellation of summer exams. However, there has been a notable decline in the number of school leavers opting for Further Education (FE) Colleges.

In a speech delivered at the Labour Party conference in September 1999, former Prime Minister Tony Blair outlined his vision for higher education expansion, setting a target of 50% of young individuals entering university.

Since then, the number of students from Northern Ireland enrolling in university has experienced a consistent increase. For instance, in 2004, slightly over one-third of school leavers opted for university education in Northern Ireland or other regions, while approximately 30% pursued employment or work-based training.

By 2012, approximately 42% of school leavers in Northern Ireland chose to enter university, while the proportion engaged in employment or training had declined to about 17%.

In 2012, over a third of school leavers in Northern Ireland also commenced their studies at Further Education (FE) Colleges. Following that, the percentage of school leavers entering university in Northern Ireland remained relatively stable each year until 2020.

The recently published data reveals that in both 2020 and 2021, 47.9% of school leavers in Northern Ireland enrolled in university, marking a consistent rate.

In 2021, nearly three-quarters (72.6%) of those who entered university opted to study in Northern Ireland, while approximately 2,800 school leavers commenced their university education in other parts of the UK or abroad.

In contrast, in 2021, slightly over a quarter (27%) of school leavers chose to pursue their studies in Further Education (FE) Colleges. This has led to calls in recent years for increased encouragement for young individuals to consider FE or engage in vocational and technical qualifications.

In Northern Ireland, there was a notable disparity between women and men when it came to university enrollment. In 2021, more than half (56.3%) of female school leavers chose to enter university, while approximately four in ten (39.8%) male leavers made the same decision.

There was a significant difference in the proportion of girls and boys achieving at least three A-Levels with grades A* – C. Girls had a higher proportion of achievement in this regard compared to boys.

According to the statistics from the Department for Education (DE), pupils from a Catholic background exhibited a higher likelihood of pursuing university education compared to pupils from a Protestant or “other” background.

In 2021, around three-quarters of pupils attending grammar schools opted to pursue university education, while only about a quarter of pupils in non-grammar schools made the same choice.



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By Ryan

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