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The Impact of Proposed Higher Education Reforms on Geographic Accessibility to Universities in Ireland

Abstract

The pursuit of equity in access to higher education is central to education policy in most developed countries. Although much of the focus has been on narrowing the social class differential in higher education participation, spatial factors have been increasingly acknowledged as a potential barrier to access and subsequent participation. This article explores geographic accessibility to university education in Ireland using a variety of techniques and measures, paying particular attention to analysing the effect of proposed higher education policy reforms. In particular, we utilise GIS-based methodologies to model the impact of the proposed reforms on both the level of, and inequalities in, geographic accessibility to university education in Ireland. This includes mapping and analysing a range of accessibility measures, as well as calculating spatially-based university accessibility Gini indices. We also illustrate how the techniques and analysis can be used to help inform higher education policy.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The proposed changes to the higher education sector in Ireland pertain to the structure and organisation of the system, details of which are outlined in section 2 below.

  2. 2.

    For an analysis of aspatial factors impacting higher education participation in Ireland, see (Flannery 2013) and (Flannery and O’ Donoghue 2009).

  3. 3.

    Some of the labels for HEIs within Dublin city are not visible in Fig. 1 due to the high concentration of HEIs in the capital city.

  4. 4.

    We adopt a basic university headquarters point model here, though acknowledge that in some instances multi campus configurations exist within existing institutions.

  5. 5.

    EDs were chosen over the more homogenous ‘small areas’ (SAs) due to the considerable added complexity involved in modelling the latter, of which there are close to 18,500 in total.

  6. 6.

    A full list of the institutions included in the analysis is presented in Appendix 1.

  7. 7.

    To check the robustness of our results, we also calculated other inequality measures, such as the Theil index. Overall, the pattern of results is consistent across the alternative measures.

  8. 8.

    Lorenz curves were also constructed which map the cumulative accessibility share against the cumulative population (17–19 years) share, ordered from least to most accessible. To make an unequivocal statement about which distribution is more unequal, we conducted non-parametric tests of Lorenz dominance. Further details are available on request from the authors.

  9. 9.

    In order to check the robustness of our results, we also measured university size by the number of courses offered. Overall the patterns of accessibility were consistent.

  10. 10.

    As highlighted by (Schofer 1975), (Tight 2011) and (Metcalfe 2009).

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Correspondence to Sharon Walsh.

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This work was supported by the National University of Ireland, Galway Hardiman Research Scholarship. The funder had no role in the design of the study; the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; the writing of the paper; or the decision to submit the paper for publication.

Appendix

Appendix

(Table 5).

Table 5 HEIs included in the analysis

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Walsh, S., Cullinan, J. & Flannery, D. The Impact of Proposed Higher Education Reforms on Geographic Accessibility to Universities in Ireland. Appl. Spatial Analysis 10, 515–536 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12061-016-9193-3

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Keywords

  • Higher education reform
  • Geographic accessibility
  • Geographic inequality
  • Universities
  • Ireland