School’s out forever. So what’s next?
You’re 18. You got your Leaving Cert results on Wednesday. Welcome to the rest of your potentially 120-year-long life
Class of 2013: (from left) Dean Hogarty, Luke Noonan, Eoin de Lecy, Nathan Doyle, Robert Swaine, Jordan Doyle Mathew Murphy, Kalim Teeling and Dean Cullins at St John’s College, in Ballyfermot, after collecting their Leaving Cert results on Wednesday. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Class of 2013: (from left) Emma Deegan, Sinead Deegan and Rachel Gallagher with their leaving cert results at Portmarnock Community School, Portmarnock, Co Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
For tens of thousands of 18-year-olds who woke up around Ireland on Thursday morning, school really is out forever. As they digest their Leaving Cert results, they are about to embark on the next phase of their lives.
They were just nine when Mark Zuckerburg and his friends invented Facebook, and as they entered their teens Ireland officially entered recession. The nature of work has changed. Many of their older brothers and sisters have emigrated. Their life expectancy will increase dramatically. Their education will be different. So what does the future hold for these 55,000 students?
Malcolm Byrne of the Higher Education Authority says 2013 was “probably one of the best years in which to do the Leaving Certificate”.
Most of the students who got their results on Wednesday were born in 1995, a year when the birth rate in Ireland had fallen significantly. “It means the numbers going through the school system were lower,” he says, and at the same time “there have never been as many first-year [third-level] places available to them. So it’s good news for them.”
One of the biggest changes will be something they’re already well versed in. “Those going into college now are digital natives: they are used to using technology, and higher-education institutions have responded to that,” says Byrne. “Programmes are delivered either entirely online or by blended learning – a mix of some stuff being delivered online and some directly in the classroom or lab. Increasingly we have seen the advent of what we call the Moocs – mass online open courses.”
The make-up of their classrooms in third-level institutions will change, too, given the demand for education from mature students – which is “putting a lot of pressure on the system,” Byrne says – and the shrinking of the gender gap. “For a while in the 2000s females were outperforming males right through the education system. The gender balance is now much closer than it was.”
Those pressures come with financial challenges, and it’s likely that the class of 2013 will be central to the debate about how education is funded. These students will be paying about €2,500 in fees, yet that covers only a quarter of the yearly cost of higher education per student.
There are “questions about how we best fund our education system”, Byrne says, “either through means of fees, a graduate tax, income-contingent loans or capping numbers. The debates in their societies and the protests on the streets will be about the issues of fees and funding.
“The higher-education structure they enter is also increasingly internationalised. The number of students taking Erasmus programmes is increasing, as are other exchange progammes. The number of Irish students looking to study abroad will continue to grow.”
Louise Campbell is the managing director of the financial recruitment company Robert Walters in Ireland. “It’ll be an interesting time in four to five years when these guys graduate,” she says. “Some students think they’re being very clever when they go for degree courses that they think there are loads of jobs in now. When I was in college, law was the coolest degree to have, and becoming a commercial-property lawyer was a big goal, but, as we know, that’s a dangerous approach to take.
“Telling kids to get into IT, which is what you hear a lot about now, is a dangerous thing to do, because even if they have no interest in IT, they’re going into an IT-related degree because there’s a market for it now. It might get them a job quickly, but that’s not necessarily the route to happiness.”
Campbell says financial-skill shortages will continue over the next couple of years. “Qualified accountants who will work in internal audit and regulatory areas – that side of increased regulation isn’t going to go away. I would foresee, within the next five years plus, that will be a busy area.”