A gap year to see kangeroos in Australia, picture DUB

Gap year doesn't result in better study choices

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In recent years, more and more young people have been taking a gap year before starting their studies. But according to a new report by the Inspectorate of Education, this does not seem to result in better study choices.

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No, the Inspectorate did not look at why increasing numbers of young people want to wait a year before going into higher education. But the trend is clear. Over an eight-year period (2009-2017), the proportion of first-year students who had taken a gap year rose from 9.9 to 14 percent.

Some opt to work, others grab their backpack and head for Australia. Today’s report doesn’t reveal exactly who does what, but it does bring the backgrounds of these young people into focus.

Male-female

© HOP. Source: Inspectorate of Education. Moving on in further education. 

Women decide to take a year off more often than men. This also applies to young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods, or as the Inspectorate likes to call them: young people from areas of cumulative poverty-related risk. Students with lower final exam grades are also slightly more likely to take a year off before continuing their studies.

© HOP. Source: Inspectorate of Education. Moving on to higher education. Graduation year 2017.

The differences between the various groups tend to be small. Take male and female students at universities of applied sciences, for example: 11.4 and 14.5 percent respectively enter higher education one year after leaving school. But what reasons lie behind such differences?

It could have something to do with “bottlenecks in the accessibility of higher education,” the inspectors speculate. But they clearly don’t want to commit themselves. It will be up to others to seek out those answers.

Income
That won’t be an easy task, as no clear picture emerges from the figures. For example, the gap year is relatively popular among students from high-income families and low-income families. Students from a middle-income background are more likely to enter higher education without delay.

Some people argue that taking a year out can help students make a better study choice, but the Inspectorate sees little evidence of this: with or without a gap year, young people are just as likely to switch programmes.

It’s also interesting to note that the abolition of the basic student grant has had little effect on the gap year’s popularity: the trend was already visible before the government’s new loan system raised the cost of studying by thousands of euros. After a dip in 2015 (with many students wanting to take advantage of the basic student grant while it was still available), the steady rise continued more or less where it left off.

Emancipation
Does higher education have an emancipating effect on young people? Once they are fully engaged in student life, do the differences between young people from different backgrounds melt away? If anything, the figures in the report suggest otherwise. After completing their Bachelor’s degree, students sometimes take a gap year before starting their Master’s. Surprisingly, the differences between the various groups of young people at this point in their studies turn out to be even more marked.

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