NI education qualifiers bumping along the UK bottom…

Really interesting piece of research on educational achievement and its relation to individual economic success in Northern Ireland by Vani K. Borooah at the University of Ulster. In the introduction he notes that, “Based on a survey of 97 studies that estimated returns to education, Ashenfelter et. al. (1999) concluded that the return to an additional years schooling was between 6 and 9 percent”. Now we do extremely well compared to the rest of the UK when it comes to high individual educational achievement, but considerably less well when it comes of overall achievement as a proportion of the population – top and bottom!Well:

Approximately, 30 percent of the respondents in the North East, the North West, the East and West Midlands, Wales, and Scotland had no qualifications compared to around 22 percent for the East, the South East, the South West, and inner and outer London. Of all the regions of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland had the highest proportion of respondents (38 percent) with no qualifications.

And at the other end of the scale:

At the other end of the qualifications spectrum, 44 percent of respondents in inner London, 31 percent in outer London, and 27 percent in the South East had Level 4 qualifications. At the other extreme, only 18 percent of respondents in Northern Ireland and in the North East had level 4 qualifications. In the other regions the proportion of respondents with Level 4 qualifications was fairly equal at approximately 21 percent.

Now for the sectarian headcount thing. And it’s not quite as you might expect:

While there was no significant difference between the proportions of Catholics and Protestant respondents, taken in their entirety (i.e. 16-74), without any qualifications, the proportion of Catholic respondents without any qualifications was significantly higher than that for Protestants for the truncated age groups, 16-45 and 16-30 years.

However, at the other end of the qualifications spectrum, the proportion of Catholic respondents with Level 4 qualifications was significantly higher than that for Protestants for all the age groups: 16-74, 16-45, and 16-30 years. Compared to Protestants, Catholics were more likely to be without qualifications but also more likely to have the highest level of qualifications.

Protestants seem to have a more even spread of achievement, whereas there is quite a (class based?) spread amongst Catholics. On the face of it, you might use these findings to argue that Catholics both benefit from selective education and are simultaneously penalised by it. But, he adds an important caveat:

The empirical evidence tends to suggest that a higher proportion of Protestants migrate to Great Britain (GB) for HE purposes with a significant proportion not returning. This seems a strong explanatory factor in explaining the finding that Catholics have the highest levels of qualification.

But there is no such caveat for the most striking finding at the lower end Catholic performance, which significantly contradicts previous research:

The finding that the number of Catholics without any qualifications is significantly higher than for Protestants is particularly interesting and would tend to be contrary to what previous research has shown, particularly work which Professor Bob Osborne has previously undertaken.