The Department of Education administers primary and post-primary education. Six years of primary education are free and education is compulsory for nine years. Post-primary education is free in over 90% of voluntary secondary day schools and in all vocational, comprehensive, and community schools. All secondary schools are private, and many are operated by religious orders. Most post-primary education is single-sex. The Department of Education makes grants and allowances to secondary and vocational schools, as well as to colleges, for training teachers of all religious denominations. It also pays the salaries of primary, secondary, comprehensive, and community-school teachers.
In the secondary schools, the Department of Education allocates grants on the basis of pupil enrollment that serve to pay more than 90% of all teachers' salaries. Approximately 90% of the cost of maintaining vocational schools is paid from state funds; the rest is paid by local authorities.
Ireland has two universities: the University of Dublin (Trinity College) and the National University of Ireland, which consists of three constituent colleges in Dublin, Galway, and Cork. St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, is a recognized college of the National University. Universities are self-governing, but each receives an annual state grant, as well as supplementary grants for capital outlays. There are also various colleges of education, home economics, technology, and the arts.
In 1997, there were 358,830 pupils in primary schools, with 16,202 teachers. The Student-to-teacher ratio stood at 22 to 1. At the secondary level in the same year, 389,353 students were taught by 27,273 teachers. Also in 1997, there were 8,979 teachers and 134,566 students enrolled in higher-level institutions. As of 1999, 90% of primary-school-age children were enrolled in school, while 99.8% of those eligible attended secondary school. Approximately 13.5% of government expenditure was allocated to education in the latter half of the 1990s. As of 1999, public expenditure on education was estimated at 4.5% of GDP.