NUI Galway’s Whitaker Institute Identifies Emerging Achievement Gap Between Young Migrants and Their Non-Migrant Peers

Mar 19 2014 Posted: 15:28 GMT

Whitaker Institute’s research studies find population and migration trends have profound impacts on all areas of social policy and societal development


The Whitaker Institute at NUI Galway is the largest national research Institute focused on business, social and public policy issues. The Institute’s upcoming publication Impact Insights, offers a succinct overview of the research being conducted there. As part of that work, the Population and Migration research cluster at the Whitaker Institute has identified an emerging achievement gap between young migrants and their non-migrant peers, which will result in a significant under-representation in third-level institutions.

Given the ongoing importance of migration in Ireland, the work of the Population and Migration cluster is particularly interesting. The cluster has three central aims:

  • To research key features of contemporary population and migration in critical ways.
  • To contribute to a better understanding of prostitution and sex trafficking/migration.
  • To contribute to the design of improved policies relating to population and migration and help meet existing needs of society.  

Several studies carried out by the group encompass the ‘new Irish’- the children of immigrants - and the ease, or otherwise, with which they have integrated into Irish society. Research projects completed and in progress include studies of Brazilian immigration to Ireland, youth workers, second generation return migration, advocacy on behalf of immigrant groups and contributions to improved policy design.

In particular, the work of Dr. Valerie Ledwith and Dr. Kathy Reilly from the School of Geography and Archaeology at NUI Galway examines the educational outcomes and experiences of young migrants in second level education in Galway City and urban-rural fringe. Funded by the Irish Research Council and the European Commission, The Galway Education Survey looked into how variables such as neighbourhood, school and home environment affect the educational outcomes and experiences of young migrants in second level education.

Key Statistics by Migrant Category

  • 66.7% non migrants and 56.2% of all migrants plan to attend University – this 10% difference found that similar proportions of non migrant students plan to attend university but migrant students are less likely to realise their aspiration.
  • Non migrants are 2 times more likely to sit Higher level Maths than Irish born children of foreign born parents.
  • Non migrants are 2.25 times more likely to sit Higher level Science than Irish born children of foreign born parents.

Their work highlights the inequality of access for migrant students as a result of current school attendance policies that make it easier for long-term Irish national residents to access schools because of the use of sibling or family as past pupil clauses in reaching enrolment decisions.

Furthermore, their research draws attention to the link between these enrolment practices and the emerging achievement gap between young migrants and their non-migrant peers. The research also shows that young migrants are less likely to take Junior Certificate subjects at Higher Level, which restricts the student to sitting that subject at Ordinary Level for the Leaving Certificate. This directly limits the number of points students can achieve. Without a change to the current points system, these results suggest that young migrants will be under-represented within third level education.

Dr. Valerie Ledwith stated, “In general, the results of our research suggest that an achievement gap is emerging between young migrants and non-migrants in Ireland. Moreover, this achievement gap is linked to enrolment practices that constrain the school choices available to young migrants.” 

Dr. Ledwith continued, “This research arose from our concern with the potential emergence of a two-tier education system in Ireland. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that this is the case, with a clearly apparent achievement gap between young migrants and their non-migrant peers. “

This research was incorporated into the Galway County Integration and Diversity Strategy 2013-2017. Actions linked to the strategy involve further research in the Institute, including an exploration of migrant experiences at university level and mapping migrant services across Galway City and County. This research engages multiple practitioner and community interests and will be conducted throughout 2014 to 2015.

The Population and Migration research is funded from an extensive range of national and international sources including: Atlantic Philanthropies; Barnardos; Department of Education and Skills, NI; Department of Health and Children; EU; Galway Educate Together; Health Research Board; Higher Education Authority; Irish Research Council; UNESCO and WHO.

Its membership is equally diverse, with researchers from economics, geography, political science, sociology, health promotion and psychology. This diversity reflects the need for a multi-disciplinary approach in considering the social, political and economic dimensions of migration and population change.

Dr. Mary Cawley from the Whitaker Institute explains, “The creation of the cluster provides an opportunity to come together and be more aware of each other’s research. In so doing we can identify areas where there may be scope for collaboration, including the development of funding initiatives. Some colleagues are already involved in developing joint grant proposals.”

For further information on the Whitaker Institute visit


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