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The HEA published its Spatial and Socio-economic profile of Higher Education Institutions in Ireland. Shutterstock/4 PM production

New report finds UCD and IADT have highest proportion of students from affluent backgrounds

The data shows the percentage from affluent backgrounds and disadvantaged backgrounds in each institution.

NEW RESEARCH CARRIED out by the Higher Education Authority has revealed the Institute of Art and Design Technology and University College Dublin have the highest proportion of students from an affluent background. 

Some 35% of students attending IADT are classed as coming from an affluent background, just above UCD where 34% of students come from an affluent background. 

This compares to just 8% of the student population in IADT which comes from a socio-economically disadvantaged background. In UCD, some 5% of students come from a disadvantaged background. 

On the other end of the scale, Letterykenny IT has the highest number of students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds at 24% compared to 4% from affluent backgrounds.

It’s followed by IT Sligo which has 19% of students coming a disadvantaged background and just 5% coming from affluent backgrounds. 

This is the first year of data with this much insight being gathered and made available, and researchers have warned against pitting one institution against another as each one serves its own unique region. 

This new data for the student population enrolled in Irish third-level institutes for the 2017/2018 year has been collated and analysed by the Higher Education Authority (HEA). 

Using a deprivation index score (DIS), it found that 10% of the national student population is from a disadvantaged background, while 19%, almost double that of the disadvantaged student population, is from an affluent background. 

The research used 2016 census data to develop a DIS based on a student’s socio-economic background. It then lined this data up against the student population in all but one higher education institutes across Ireland. 


Trinity College Dublin (TCD) did not participate in this phase of the research citing privacy concerns as the data required the name and address of students. 

The HEA said this has been rectified and TCD is expected to participate in future research. 

Caitríona Ryan, Head of Access Policy at the HEA said the data will influence policy decisions on how access funding is directed. 

“This work provides a new type of analysis and type of information that we did not have previously, and this will support institutions to develop more targeted approaches to widening access in their regions.”

“The deprivation index score (DIS) does give a broad view of the overall socio-economic profile of an institution,” she added. 

“It’s important we don’t compare institutions or be seen to be pitting institutions together in this analysis because context is important and every institution has a unique region and offers a variety of different programmes depending on levels of demand.”

graph Graph showing the average household income of students attending some colleges. HEA HEA


Before introducing this new data-gathering approach, the HEA relied on a the Equal Access Survey (EAS) of students to inform policy that could give second-level students a path to third-level education. 

Now it has developed a score ranging from -40, which indicated the volume of students from the most deprived areas, to +40, which indicated the volume of students from the most affluent parts of the country. 

The majority of Institutes of Technology (ITs) – with the exception of IT Tallaght and IT Blanchardstown – had an average deprivation score of between -0.6 and -4.6.

Meanwhile, the Royal College of Surgeons, University College Cork (UCC) and University College Dublin (UCD) had the highest average scores, meaning they had a higher percentage of students from affluent backgrounds. 

percentage of colleges HEA HEA


The study showed that students who studied Economics, Library, Information and Archival Studies, or Medicine are more likely to come from an affluent background. 

Students taking courses in areas such as secretarial and office work, or military and defense courses, are more likely to have a lower deprivation score and come from a more disadvantaged background.      

courses Areas of study ranked based cohort with most affluent students to most deprived students. HEA HEA

However, researchers involved in the study were quick to point out that some courses have a smaller cohort of students than others – there is a small number of archival studies courses available, while medicine is a broader field, which has an influence on the DIS ranking. 

So while both rank highly in terms of its affluent student population, there are a lot more affluent students studying medicine across all available courses, compared to the number of students studying on the limited number of archival studies courses available in Ireland. 

They also noted that universities tend to have a greater proportion of students at postgraduate level, which might require private funding, compared to ITs which have less postgraduate courses available.

So while universities have a higher number of students from affluent backgrounds than ITs, there are influences, such as ability to fund postgraduate studies etc. and availability of courses from institution to institution, that should be taken into consideration. 


Using the data, researchers were also able to map out the distance between a student’s home and the institute they are attending. 

Students attending St Angela’s in Sligo had an average road distance of 133km from their home. It was followed with students in NUIG having an average distance of 108km, and Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, which had an average distance of 100km. 

IT Blanchardstown had the shortest average distance for students at 27km, followed by UCC at 33km and IT Tallaght at 40km. 

Students from Mayo, Donegal, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan, Sligo, Roscommon, Longford and Wexford travel more than 100km on average to go to college. 

The full report and interactive map is available here later today.

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