Science graduates emerge into Ireland of little security
It is no surprise that there is a slow, steady stream of young but experienced research scientists who end up leaving for the UK and US, where the notion of maintaining a career is not off the menu
The release of Leaving results two weeks ago showed increased numbers of students sitting physics, biology, chemistry and higher maths
The message is getting through to students and their parents – it is a good idea to consider studying physics, biology, chemistry and higher maths at second level to facilitate a jump into third-level studies in the sciences. The release of Leaving results two weeks ago by the State Examinations Commission showed increased numbers of students sitting these subjects and the follow-through was also to be seen in the Central Applications Office first round offers. The points required for entry to the sciences and maths were up and are significantly higher than they were back in 2010 when you could get into the sciences at University College Dublin or Trinity College Dublin with a Leaving result in the mid-400s. Now the points demand is in the low 500s.
Education commentators including this paper’s education correspondent, Joe Humphreys, put the steady rise down to the bonus points on offer for those students who sit and pass higher maths, even if they scrape through with a D grade. This extra 25 points is being used to leverage places in courses that are seeing growing demand, hence growing points requirements for science courses along with engineering and agricultural science. Clearly something is pushing this demand and the most likely cause is sustained encouragement from the Government telling people – parents in particular – that there are good, high-paying jobs available for those working in the sciences and maths.
It doesn’t hurt this argument that Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton and Minister of State in the department Damien English (previously Seán Sherlock) make almost daily announcements of new jobs coming up in the technology sector. They also regularly talk about fresh investments in scientific research which opens the doors for PhD and postdoctoral researchers to take up opportunities using a combination of State, European Union and private- enterprise money in pursuit of some research goal.
But are the parents and their offspring being deceived? Is it really true that there are thousands of jobs going a-begging as we are told because there aren’t enough specialists, particularly in the IT area, available to take up well-paid posts? There is a certain amount of exaggeration going on and things aren’t really as straightforward as they might seem.
There have been about a dozen phone calls to this office in recent months from parents looking for advice on why their science grad daughter or son can’t seem to find a job here. These clearly won’t be a representative sample, and may not be a reflection of what is actually going on. The Higher Education Authority’s reports on the first destinations for graduates usually show consistently high job or higher education placements for those holding science, technology and maths degrees. Those with degrees in these subjects also are trained to be good problem-solvers and so are ideal people to sign up as managers in any discipline. They generally have good numeracy, logical thinking and evidence-based decision-making skills that fit in any kind of business.