Higher Education – Key Facts and Figures 2020/2021

Maura O'Shea

By Maura O'Shea

Posted: 11 October, 2021

a laptop displaying statistics on a web page. Behind the laptop is a couch and a window.

The number of enrolments in higher education has increased by almost 17.5% over the past six years and new data released today by the Higher Education Authority reveals that more and more students are now achieving first class honours than before.

These annual statistics, compiled by the HEA, look at the number of students enrolled in a particular year, their route to higher education, their gender, the qualifications graduates achieve and the course areas that most graduates study.

The new data reveals:

  • Total enrolments increased by 17.4% between 2014/15 and 2020/21 – there was a 4.2% increase between 2019/20 and 2020/21, with over 245,600 enrolments in total in 2020/21;
  • The number of undergraduate new entrants in 2020/21 increased by 6% on the previous year – the total of just less than 46,200, is the largest annual number of new entrants to date;
  • The majority (69%) of new entrants in 2020/21 entered based on the Leaving Certificate; 8.7% entered via HEAR or DARE (reduced points entry) compared to 7.1% in 2018/19 and 8.5% in 2019/20.
  • The participation gap between males and females has continued to widen – in 2014/15, there were 3.3% more females but by 2020/21 the gap had widened to 17.8%;
  • In 2014/15, male new entrants actually outnumbered female new entrants. In 2020/21, there were almost 3,600 more female new entrants;
  • The proportion of honours degree graduates achieving a First Class Honours or equivalent increased from 16.8% for the class of 2014 cohort to 24.3% for the class of 2020 cohort. There was a 3.6 percentage point increase in firsts from 2019 to 2020 alone.

HEA’s Head of Access Policy, Caitríona Ryan, welcomed the increase in students availing of alternative entry routes.

Considering the huge impact of COVID-19 on Leaving Certificate students in 2020, it is positive that there has been an increase in students entering via DARE and HEAR in 2020”.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic can be seen for the first time in these annual statistics with a drop in the number of international enrolments.

Total international enrolments decreased by 11.6% in 2020/21 compared to 2019/20. Excluding unknowns, a fall in non-EU enrolments (down 18%) drove this overall decrease. Numbers from EU countries and the UK saw a small increase.

The data shows that UCD is the largest higher education institution in the State based on total enrolments (28,250 in 2020/21). However, TU Dublin has the largest number of undergraduate new entrants and the largest number of Irish students.

Dublin higher education institutions now account for 39% of all graduates, down from 40-41% in previous years. South-West HEIs (UCC and MTU) account for 15% and HEIs in the Mid-West account for 12% of total graduates.

The total number of graduates increased by 22% between 2014 and 2020. There was a 4.7% increase between 2019 and 2020, with over 81,400 graduates in total in 2020.

In terms of annual graduate numbers – business, administration and law courses produce more graduates than any other field of study group (over 20,200).

For more information, see https://hea.ie/statistics/data-for-download-and-visualisations/enrolments/key-facts-figures-2020-2021/

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