CAO Q&A: economic prospects drive shifts in college course preferences

Increase in applications for engineering, science and agriculture/food courses reflects changing economy

The number of students sitting the Leaving Certificate will grow from 52,000 last year to 54,000 this year. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

The number of students sitting the Leaving Certificate will grow from 52,000 last year to 54,000 this year. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Sun, Mar 9, 2014, 21:44

What is contained in the latest CAO figures?


The Central Applications Office figures released today show there has been an increase of 1,940 college applicants since the equivalent figures last March. This increase is accounted for by the increase in the numbers sitting the Leaving Certificate in next June, which will grow from 52,000 last year to 54,000 this year.

Today’s CAO statistics are not the final picture of the application pattern among the 17 categories of degree programmes on offer this year. More than 6,000 applicants have not yet indicated course choices and are under no obligation to do until the July 1st deadline. Given the pattern of previous years, a further 6,000 applicants will register applications on or before the May 1st deadline, increasing this year’s application number to 79,000.


Who are the 73,091 individuals who have indicated their interest in securing college places this year?

Fifteen per cent, or 11,079 of them, are classified as mature applicants, being 23 years of age or older (born on or before January 1st, 1991). The number of mature applicants, which increased initially after the economic downturn in 2008, has in the past four years dropped back due to a combination of factors: emigration in this age group, cutbacks in funding support for mature applicants and increased employment opportunities in the past two years. With 47-48 per cent of mature applicants securing places each year, they are likely to secure about 6,255, or 13.5 per cent, of the 46,149 places available.

In 2013, 15,767 applicants presented Fetac qualifications, and represented 20 per cent of overall applicants. Unfortunately only 3,033, or 6.6 per cent of the 46,162 successful CAO applicants, secured college places based on Fetac awards. This should be an issue of huge concern to policymakers in the Department of Education and Skills.

There a disconnect between the numbers hoping to secure CAO places through taking post-Leaving Certificate courses leading to Fetac awards and the numbers of places provided by third-level colleges.

Every year, for example, thousands of Leaving Certificate students who apply for level-eight honours degree nursing programmes, and fail to secure them due to the high points requirements, take pre-nursing PLC programmes. More than 400 of these students each year secure perfect scores of eight distinctions in their Fetac awards. However, only 92 places out of 1,660 are on offer to PLC candidates. If this happened to hundreds of Leaving Certificate students who secured 625 points but failed to secure college places there would be national uproar.

Apart from about 1,000 students from Northern Ireland and the UK, and similar numbers from the rest of the EU, the remaining 44,000 CAO applicants to date, plus the 6,000 expected to apply by May 1st, sat the Leaving Certificate last year or are sitting it next June. Seventy per cent of them will secure college places next August, based on previous years’ figures.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.