Business one of the most popular courses at third level

Focus on business and management: hundreds of courses available with every higher education institute offering a range of programmes

There is a lot of pressure on young people who are trying to decide what area of education they want to pursue after secondary school.

They stare through the Central Applications Office course codes, attend university open days, discuss again and again their options with their friends and family, feeling overwhelmed by the choice in front of them.

That is why so many individuals opt to undertake a degree in the areas of business and management, as it is a large umbrella term that encompasses a variety of degrees and an even wider set of possible career opportunities.

About one in every six applicants to the CAO seeking a college place in a level-eight higher degree lists a business degree programme as their first choice.


This makes it the second most popular choice for prospective students, with arts, another broad degree programme, being the number one choice.

And it’s no wonder why when you consider the broad choice the subject area encompasses, with education in business covering sectors such as retail, banking, insurance, management, accounting, human-resource management, entrepreneurship, finance, sales and marketing.

A search on the website shows there are hundreds of level-eight business courses on offer in the country, with essentially every higher education institute in the CAO system offering a range of programmes in the field.

Furthermore, business programmes are also available at post-leaving certificate (PLC) level, as another entry route for school leavers or to allow an individual to kick-start their career in the field.

According to Robert Ford, lecturer in risk management and insurance at the Kemmy Business School in the University of Limerick, that broad choice is one of the best parts of a business degree.

“For people who don’t know what they want to do, but they know that business is involved in most things, so it tends to have a lot of elements they’re able to narrow down into. It has marketing, HR, accounting, risk, finance and economics. It has everything,” he said.

“What we really want is for people to have a taste of everything, get a literacy of all business fundamentals and then they can specialise later on as they go along. We give them a general understanding and then they narrow it down. It being broad is actually a key strength, I think.”

Many business graduates would be eligible for graduate programmes that are run by some of the big businesses in the State, meaning the potential for career progression and salary growth is very promising

One of the broadest business courses available in Ireland is Trinity College’s business, economics and social studies (BESS) programme. It is always a popular choice for young people because it involves elements of business studies, economics, politics and sociology, giving students a well-rounded taste of a variety of areas of study.

Common-entry programmes are also an excellent way to help undecided students learn what elements of business take their interest.

Those on the programme, which are available in almost all third-level institutions, will try out all of the different aspects in the first couple of years, from accounting to human resources and supply-chain management.

Then, later on in the course, once they’ve experienced the different opportunities within the field, they can decide on the area in which they’d like to major.

According to Mr Ford, business graduates end up “pretty much everywhere” in terms of sectors of work.

“What we’re seeing at the minute a lot is people going into the teaching sector in both primary or secondary. In secondary school they might go and teach business and French or something like that,” he said.

“Business is kind of fundamental so even if you wanted to go into engineering, that business literacy is so beneficial. Yeah, you go in to learn business, but I think the underlying skills are globally transferable and industry transferable.”

Mr Ford added that as a society, our lives are largely built around managing finances.

“Every business has a management department, every business has a finance officer, an accountant, a marketing person, a HR person, so you can easily pivot into any industry. It’s so versatile and so transferable, I think,” he added.

Many business graduates would be eligible for graduate programmes that are run by some of the big businesses in the State, meaning the potential for career progression and salary growth is very promising.

Martin Hughes, director of the bachelor of commerce at University of Galway, said for specialist degrees such as accounting and finance, career progression is quite simple, with many graduates working for one of the Big Four firms.

“But there are hundreds of others and then consultancy would be another big one for students. For consulting houses, as graduate trainees, there would be positions right across the spectrum from finance to technology,” he said.

And while the tech sector, for example, is undergoing a “retraction” at the moment, Mr Hughes said that will correct itself, meaning graduates in the coming years will still have job opportunities in that area.

In terms of accessibility, the points for business degrees vary depending on the type of degree and the location in which a student wants to study.

There is also no requirement for students to have studied business subjects, which are business studies, economics or accountancy, at Leaving Cert level to gain entry on a third-level programme in the field.

DCU’s accounting and finance degree required 529 points last year, while the university’s marketing, innovation and technology programme was 496 points and its bachelor of business studies international required 499 points.

In Cork, an undergraduate degree in commerce was 508 points in UCC last year, while the finance degree was 577 points. In UCD, meanwhile, its business and law programme required 566 points last year, and its commerce degree required 554 points.

Technological universities also offer programmes in the field, though the points requirements are usually much lower, making them more accessible for those who didn’t earn the required points for a course in one of the more traditional universities.

In the Atlantic Technological University, there are courses in business information systems (300 points) and rural enterprise and agribusiness (298 points). Munster Technological University offers a business information systems course (346 points) and home economic and business (532 points).

When it comes to the hard numbers, there is a promising picture for business degrees and its graduates. A recent study from the Higher Education Authority found dropout rates for business courses is on the decline.

Some 8 per cent of students in business, administration and law degrees did not progress the whole way through in the 2019 to 2020 academic year, down from 12 per cent in the 2017 to 2018 academic year.

Furthermore, job prospects are good for graduates, according to Grad Ireland, who said IT, engineering, banking and finance, accountancy, HR and research and development are the sectors that are very popular with graduate recruiters, with technology leading the field.

Earnings for graduates in the sector varies depending on which area they have specialised in.

According to the 2020 Grad Ireland graduate survey, the mean starting salary for those in banking, investment banking and financial services was €30,329 per year, while those in accountancy and financial management started out at €26,757.

There is also potential for significant career and earning progression for graduates in this field.

Because business degrees are designed to be applicable to a variety of fields, students on the programmes pick up a broad selection of different skill sets.

Mr Hughes said business degrees in the university are structured around three areas of learning.

“One is what I would call their personal expertise, which will come down to the more complex knowledge elements that they’re being exposed to throughout the course of their degree. So that might be expertise in finance, like the expertise in tax and the expertise in marketing, etc,” he said.

“The second is to have to be able to apply that knowledge in the business environments. What are they able to do with this knowledge that they have whether to work in teams to be possibly effective, communicate and collaborate with others. And the third element is the idea of personal responsibility. It’s about ethics. It’s about inclusion and diversity and having a social mindset that there is a greater purpose to business than just creating profit or employment.”

Outside of that, for programmes with an international element, it allows students to improve their proficiency in a foreign language.

Where the degree programme includes a language, such as University of Galway’s commerce (international with French), students are able to spend a year abroad in a French university, where lectures and other academic activity will take place through French, allowing students to fully immerse themselves in the language.

The world of work is changing drastically, according to Mr Hughes, with sustainability and climate responsibility particularly coming to the fore.

“There are some areas for sure that will be particularly open to new jobs. Artificial intelligence is just exploding and building on the back of data analytics; I mean, these are massive growth areas,” he said.

“They are areas that we are still perhaps only scratching the surface of in terms of how we understand things. And radical change is happening in business. Technology is having a huge impact on every role in business across the site. So really, for me, it’s about having that critical mindset that students will need to have for interactions with individuals, team members and technologies.”

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times