Maura O'Shea

By Maura O'Shea

Posted: 29 March, 2021

Photo of 3 students from above sitting at a picnic table studying

Three out of every four undergraduate entrants to higher education in 2008/09, 2009/10 and 2010/11 completed and graduated, based on a detailed analysis of completion rates by the Higher Education Authority (HEA).

The analysis was undertaken on new entrants to higher education in those years and these new entrants would have graduated from higher education – depending on their course length – over the past number of years.

It reveals that completion rates varied substantially across sectors, institutes, fields of study and student cohorts. And it also shows that females outperformed males on average across most fields of study, both in terms of completion rates and final grades.

The new data shows that:

  • Rates of completion in the education field of study were the highest across all three cohorts, ranging from 92-94%;
  • The computing field of study continued to have the lowest rates of completion overall, with rates nationally between 55-56% for the cohorts in the analysis;
  • The other fields with particularly high completion rates were health and welfare, social sciences and agriculture and veterinary;
  • The other fields with particularly low completion rates were engineering, manufacturing and construction and services;
  • There was a substantial difference in completion rates by gender. For all three entrant cohorts combined, the female completion rate was 81.1%, compared to 69.7% for males;
  • Females outperformed males on average across most fields of study, both in terms of completion rates and final grades.
  • High Leaving Certificate points at entry were associated with a relatively high probability of completion, low points at entry were associated with a relatively low probability of completion;
  • Less than half (49%) of those that entered with under 300 Leaving Cert points completed, compared with 93% of those that entered with over 500 points;
  • In addition to Leaving Certificate points, grades in Leaving Certificate Mathematics and English were found to be strong predictors of performance in higher education;
  • Of the initial almost 28,000 non-completers across all three entrant cohorts, over 17% went on to graduate in another Irish HEI in the following years. This proportion varied considerably across sectors/HEIs (26% for Universities, 13% for Institutes of Technology) and Leaving Cert points (9% for those with less than 300 points compared to 40% for those with over 500 points.

HEA Head of Skills, Engagement and Statistics, Dr Vivienne Patterson, said this HEA data provides an important national evidence base of completion rates in Irish higher education.

“A variety of factors can result in students not progressing with their studies and the data outlined in this report is helping to inform us of further areas of research required to understand why some students don’t complete their original choice of course.

“The data breaks down the areas where there are differences in completion rates with regards to subject choice, educational attainment and gender. The evidence provided is vital for future planning to ensure that students of all abilities have the best experience of higher education regardless of what field they study,” she said.

Full details are available at  Completion Data Release March 2021 | Statistics | Higher Education Authority (


More: Completion data, HEA, Vivienne Patterson

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