The postal code qualification
The President of Arizona State University, Michael Crow, has said on a number of occasions that the most reliable predictor of higher education performance for any person is available from the moment they are born: the zip code (US postal code). Where you are born and where your family lives will, more than anything else, affect the level of your educational ambitions, and will be decisive in determining whether you will go to university. The same is true in Ireland, and as politicians keep indicating that Ireland is to get postal codes shortly we will shortly be able to use these also to predict educational outcomes.
Yesterday the Irish Times published its list of university feeder schools, and this once again demonstrates that schools in affluent areas (often in South Dublin) send the largest number of students to the country’s universities. But beyond that, the Irish Times has produced a separate list that shows that private (fee-paying) schools dominate student entry to those programmes with the highest points and the greatest social cachet and income potential. These are the programmes that demonstrate more than anything else that free fees have not in any serious way affected the tendency of higher education to cement class divisions, and that they have not helped to end social disadvantage in higher education.
As a country, we are well aware of the educational inequality that we have been maintaining, but the only major measure we have taken to address it has actually had a disproportionate impact in supporting wealthier families and has done very little to combat disadvantage. We really should not go on like this.