Educational attainment in the Western Region

A recently published ESRI Research Bulletin, ‘The local factors that affect where new businesses are set up’ summarises their analysis of new firms setting up in Ireland. Data from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) on the number of start-up firms each year in 190 localities, all outside of the Greater Dublin Area, is linked to data on local characteristics thought to be important to business location. This data is used to develop models of how much each factor (or combination of factors) contributes to the number of business start-ups in a given place and time.

The authors state that the results of this analysis show that

‘Educational attainment of local residents is highly attractive to start-ups; we use the share of the population with a third-level qualification as an indicator for this, and it has the largest effect of the factors in our models.’

The analysis also shows that broadband access is a significant factor

‘However, a key finding is that broadband’s effect on start-ups depends on the education level of an area’s population. Only areas with enough highly qualified staff seem to enjoy a boost in start-ups when they have broadband network access.’

This analysis clearly points to the importance of human capital in the location decision of new business start-ups. Of course the direction of causality is a challenge, new businesses are attracted to areas with a highly skilled population, but highly skilled people will only remain/move to an area if suitable job opportunities exist.

The latest WDC Insights, published by the WDC last week (27 March), ‘Census 2016: Education Levels in the Western Region’ is therefore very timely, as it examines the level of educational attainment of the adult population of the Western Region and its seven counties.

Highest level of education completed

Overall, the Western Region displays a lower educational profile, with a smaller share of its adult population (aged 15+ years and who have ceased education) having third level qualifications and a greater share having low levels of education (Fig. 1) than the rest of the state. 13.4% of adults in the Western Region have only completed primary education compared with 11.1% in the rest of the state. The region’s older age profile contributes to this.

At the highest levels of education the difference between the Western Region and the rest of state is quite substantial e.g. 8.5% in the Western Region have a postgraduate degree/diploma compared with 11.7% in the rest of the state. Given the importance of third level education for business location and stimulating overall economic growth, this presents a challenge for the region.

Fig. 1: Percentage of population (aged 15+ years and whose full-time education has ceased) by the highest level of education completed in the Western Region and rest of state, 2016. Source: CSO, Census 2016 Profile 10 – Education, Skills and the Irish Language, Table EA003

Highest level of education completed in western counties

There are significant differences across western counties in the share of the population with a third level qualification (Fig. 2).  At 55.2%, Galway City has the second highest share of residents with a third level qualification (Advanced Certificate/Completed Apprenticeship and higher) in Ireland. It is behind Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown but ahead of Fingal, Dublin City and Kildare. Within the region, Galway County, Clare and Sligo have the next highest shares of third level graduates, illustrating a strong concentration around Galway / Limerick and also in Sligo, clearly showing the influence of larger urban centres.

Donegal has the highest share of its population with no formal education or primary only (21.9%) in the State, with Mayo, Leitrim and Roscommon next highest in the region. This is partly due to greater reliance on sectors traditionally associated with lower qualifications.

In general, the counties offering fewer graduate employment opportunities tend to have weaker educational profiles, with many of those with higher qualifications having left these areas. This presents a double challenge for such areas – the weaker educational profile makes it more difficult to attract new business start-ups, while the lack of suitable job opportunities makes the area less attractive to those with higher qualifications. Often in such areas, it is the public sector (education, health, public administration) which presents the most significant graduate employment opportunities. Stimulating greater demand for highly qualified staff among private enterprise in these areas, as well as supporting opportunities for self-employment is required.

Fig. 2: Percentage of population (aged 15+ years and whose full-time education has ceased) in western counties by highest level of education completed, 2016. Source: CSO, Census 2016 Profile 10 – Education, Skills and the Irish Language, Table EA003


Overall the Western Region continues to display a lower educational profile than the rest of the state. Given the key role of human capital in regional development, this is a significant challenge for the region and in particular more rural counties.  A number of factors including the region’s older age profile and its sectoral pattern of employment – smaller shares working in sectors which demand higher qualifications (e.g. professional services, ICT, finance) and more working in sectors traditionally characterised by lower qualifications (e.g. hospitality, agriculture) – strongly influence its educational profile.

Galway City shows a very different educational pattern however with the second highest share of third level graduates in Ireland. This is both cause and effect of its recent strong economic performance. The sectoral pattern of employment in Galway City differs from the rest of the Western Region with a high share working in ICT and medical devices manufacturing which demand higher qualifications, the presence of NUI Galway is another key contributor.

Download the latest WDC InsightsCensus 2016: Education Levels in the Western Region


Preliminary results of Census 2016 for Co Roscommon

On Thursday 8 December, the WDC made a presentation to a meeting of Roscommon Local Community Development Committee (LCDC) on its analysis of the Preliminary Results of Census 2016 which were published recently in a WDC report and also a summary WDC Insights. The presentation focused on the findings for county Roscommon and can be downloaded here.

Roscommon’s Population

The overall pattern of Roscommon’s population over the longer term was substantial population loss from Famine times until the early 1970s (Fig. 1). There was then a period of marginal growth up to the mid-80s when again there was some population loss.  The period 2002-2011 saw the county experience strong population growth, flattening out in the most recent period.  Between 2011 and 2016 the county’s population only grew by 0.6%, the second lowest growth nationally just above county Leitrim (though it should be noted three counties had population loss). The county’s population now stands at 64,436.

Source: CSO, Preliminary Results Census 2016

Fig. 1: Population of county Roscommon, 1841-2016. Source: CSO, Preliminary Results Census 2016

Sub-county patterns

Even though the county as a whole had the second lowest population growth nationally there was considerable variation within the county. The county is divided into four districts (Table 1).  One of these, Athlone No. 2 rural area (part of Athlone that is within County Roscommon) showed strong population growth, just below the state average (3.7%).  In contrast the Castlereagh (Castlerea) district in the north west of the county experienced substantial decline of -3.2% with the Boyle district only growing marginally.

There is a clear north/south difference in terms of the county’s population performance, which is linked to employment and economic growth patterns as well as closeness to larger urban centres.  It is striking to note that the areas of county Roscommon with the poorest population performance are those that border Mayo and Sligo, both of which experienced population decline over the period, and Leitrim which had even lower population growth than Roscommon.

Table 1: Population in 2016 and percentage change in population 2011-2016 in four rural districts of County Roscommon

Rural Districts 2016 2011-2016

% change

Athlone No. 2 rural area 16,547 3.5
Boyle No. 1 rural area 10,271 0.3
Castlereagh rural area 15,043 -3.2
Roscommon rural area 22,575 1.3

Source: CSO, Preliminary Results Census 2016

Of the 112 Electoral Divisions (EDs) in county Roscommon, just over half (60) showed population decline, while 50 grew and 2 remained unchanged between 2011 and 2016.  Of those that declined, 28 declined by over 5%.  Of those that grew, 19 grew by over 5%.  The top 5 EDs in terms of both population growth and population decline are set out in Table 2.

Table 2: Top 5 EDs in county Roscommon by population increase and by population decrease

Population 2011 (Number) Population 2016 (Number) Actual change 2011-2016 (Number) Percentage change

2011-2016 (%)

049 Oakport, Co. Roscommon 319 414 95 29.8
041 Kilcolagh, Co. Roscommon 126 148 22 17.5
063 Carrowduff, Co. Roscommon 203 236 33 16.3
078 Bumlin, Co. Roscommon 408 472 64 15.7
112 Tulsk, Co. Roscommon 279 315 36 12.9
051 Rushfield, Co. Roscommon 425 371 -54 -12.7
070 Fairymount, Co. Roscommon 359 313 -46 -12.8
080 Cloonfinlough, Co. Roscommon 201 173 -28 -13.9
025 Altagowlan, Co. Roscommon 57 49 -8 -14
077 Ballygarden, Co. Roscommon 220 176 -44 -20

Source: CSO, Preliminary Results Census 2016

Components of population change

The overall population change in county Roscommon between 2011 and 2016 was +371. This resulted from a natural increase of+1,642 minus estimated net migration of -1,271.  As the loss of population due to migration was very close to the gains from natural growth, the overall change in population was small.

Natural increase of a county is influenced by both its birth and death rates. The average annual birth rate in county Roscommon per 1,000 population between 2011 and 2016 was 12.9. That is, on average 12.9 babies were born each year for every 1,000 population.  This was the fourth lowest birth rate nationally, with only Cork city, Kerry and Donegal lower. The state average was 14.8.

The county’s average annual death rate per 1,000 population was 7.8.  This was the seventh highest nationally and above the state average of 6.3. The combination of a relatively low birth rate and relatively high death rate reduces the contribution of natural increase to population growth. Roscommon had the fourth lowest annual rate of natural increase in the state.

Roscommon performed better in terms of migration however.  Net migration measures the difference between the number moving into the county and the number moving out.  Roscommon’s annual average net migration rate per 1,000 population was -4 (Fig 2).   While this was greater than the state average of -1.2, there were nine other local authority areas with even greater negative migration rates. Within the Western Region, only Galway county and city exceeded Roscommon’s performance.

Fig. 2: Estimated average annual net migration rate by local authority area, 2011-2016. Source: CSO, Preliminary Results Census 2016

Fig. 2: Estimated average annual net migration rate by local authority area, 2011-2016. Source: CSO, Preliminary Results Census 2016


The Preliminary Results provide initial indications of the demographic trends within county Roscommon during the past five years.  Full details are available in the presentation which can be downloaded here.  This was a period characterised by a general upturn in the national economy, within Roscommon it can be seen that substantial variation exists between the experience of the north and south of the county.

The full Census results, which will be issued next year between April and December, will give a fuller impression of how a highly rural county such as Roscommon has performed in this period and most interestingly the spatial patterns and differences within the county.

Pauline White & Helen McHenry