New jobs focus in CAO options

Mon, Aug 20, 2012, 01:00

Students are opting for college courses which offer the best employment prospects, pushing science and technology to the fore

THE MOST striking feature of this morning’s CAO first round is the dramatic increase in points for science, technology and related areas.

Students are scrambling for places on courses which they believe offer the best job prospects. For ten years employers have been exhorting students to take science courses at third level and avail of the job opportunities in Ireland’s booming IT sector.

For years, this advice was ignored by a huge section of the student population. During the Celtic Tiger, courses in business – the gateway to lucrative jobs in financial services – were all in vogue. With no shortage of jobs in areas like teaching, public administration and marketing, there was also an upsurge in arts and humanities courses.

Students stayed loyal to broadly-based business and arts courses even when the recession kicked in from 2007.

This morning, however, signals a radical shift in student choices. The number opting for arts and humanities courses for their first choice is down by over 1,000. Student demand for many business courses is also sluggish.

Together, arts and business courses represent the twin pillars of the CAO system, accounting for over 50 per cent of all first preferences by students this year.

By contrast, courses in science, engineering and technology make up just 27 per cent of CAO higher degree courses – despite the surge in interest this year. It all begs the question – is there an oversupply of arts and humanities courses at third level, especially in the institute of technology sector where provision has increased dramatically in the past decade?

That said, colleges are confident there are sufficient places to meet the growing demand for places on science and related courses.

The employer group IBEC says the reversal of trends in student choices is good news for Ireland Inc. What’s clear, it says, is that we are beginning to attract higher calibre students into subjects for which we are likely to see a demand from industry in the foreseeable future.

The new bonus points system for higher level maths has pushed up points. As predicted in The Irish Times, the points required for science has broken through the 500-point barrier. At TCD science is up 35 points to 510.

Science at UCD requires 500 points, an increase of 45 points on 2011 and up an astonishing 200 points since 2006. Entry to NUI Maynooth’s science education programme has also hit 500 points this year.

Demand for places in computer science has also registered a dramatic increase. UCD is up 60 to 470, Trinity is up 65 to 450 and DIT is up 50 to 400. Overall, points for computer courses has increased by an average of 40 CAO points.

Points trends this year also reveal something of a rural/urban divide. While points tended to go up for most courses in UCD, Trinity, NUI Maynooth and DCU the pattern was more uneven at NUI Galway, UL and UCC.

More than 3,500 applicants picked NUI Maynooth as their first choice this year – up from 2,000 five years ago.

UL’s vice-president, Professor Paul McCutcheon pointed out how UL has offered bonus points for maths for 20 years. “The new national roll out of this practice, while very welcome, has had a short-term impact on the entry level of some of our programmes. It is noteworthy that, in spite of this, many of our existing programmes have shown a points increase this year.”

Points for most courses at UCD have risen, with 17 increasing by 25 or more points.