Concern over drop-out rates in computer science courses

Up to 80% of students in some courses are failing to progress to second year

Academics have warned that students at third level are increasingly unable to cope with courses that require maths  competence and require support to pass exams. Photograph: The Irish Times

Academics have warned that students at third level are increasingly unable to cope with courses that require maths competence and require support to pass exams. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Higher education officials are concerned at high dropout rates in maths-related courses, where up to 80 per cent of students are failing to progress beyond first year.

Some 6,500 students, or one in six of all first years in higher education, did not progress to second year between 2012 and 2014, according to research to be published by the Higher Education Authority.

There is acute concern over non-progression rates in computer science courses, given a severe skills shortage in the information and computer technology (ICT) sector.

About one-third of computer science students across all institutes of technology are dropping out after first year in college. These rates reached as high as 70 per cent in some individual IT courses.

The report states that the country is facing a “severe skills shortage” in the ICT sector, with a national action plan targeting the provision of an extra 1,250 graduates in the sector over the coming years.

“We must be careful that the correct students are being selected for these courses with sufficient levels of academic preparedness, particularly in the areas of higher-level maths ability,” the report says.

First year

A breakdown of overall figures show average dropout rates were 11 per cent among universities, rising to 23 per cent among institutes of technology.

The report highlights a particular concern over the numbers failing to progress past first year in higher certificate (level 6) and ordinary degree (level 7) courses offered in institutes of technology.

Tralee IT recorded the highest non-progression rate at higher certificate level (44 per cent), followed by Galway- Mayo IT (43 per cent) and Waterford IT (36 per cent).

At university level, the University of Limerick had the highest non-progression rate (12 per cent), followed by NUI Galway (11 per cent) and Dublin City University (10 per cent). Teacher-training colleges recorded the lowest non-progression rates, with an average of about 6 per cent.

Progression

 

Separately, college progression rates for most third-level institutions released under the Freedom of Information Act show non-progression rates of up to 80 per cent in some courses.

A higher certificate in pharmaceutical and forensic analysis at Limerick IT topped the non-progression table, with just two of the 18 students progressing on to second year between 2014 and 2015. LIT, however, said the majority of these student progressed onto an ordinary degree version of the course at the institution.

It was followed by computing with games development at IT Tralee, which recorded a non-progression rate of 80 per cent.

Colleges have pointed out that in some cases students who do not progress may have opted to defer their second year, or transferred to other courses within the same institution.

Academics have warned that students at third level are increasingly unable to cope with courses that require competence in maths and require extra support to pass their exams.

DCU president Prof Brian MacCraith, chair of a Government education review group, said there were frequently voiced concerns among lecturers over the ability of first-year students in courses such as science, technology, engineering and maths.

A considerable minority of students were now reliant on learning supports to succeed at third level, he said.

* This article has been amended to clarify the non-progression rate for LIT's course in pharmaceutical and forensic analysis.