Brian Mooney: Who’s going to pay for extra college places?

Higher education sector has faced growing numbers without extra resources

This morning CAO application numbers give us a first glimpse of what may lie in store for this year’s college hopefuls.

This morning CAO application numbers give us a first glimpse of what may lie in store for this year’s college hopefuls.

 

This morning CAO application numbers give us a first glimpse of what may lie in store for this year’s college hopefuls.

The simple answer is an increase in demand of two per cent overall, and of three per cent for level 8 honours degree courses.

This increase in demand is driven by the fact that there are about 2,000 additional students taking the Leaving Cert in 2016, as there will be every year for the next ten to twelve years ahead.

The Government has been forced to fund additional classrooms and teachers to meet the growing school-age population.

But there has been no corresponding increase at third-level as colleges struggle to cope with higher and higher numbers of students without extra resources.

In fact, lecturer numbers have been cut under the public service embargo. An additional €1,000 of the funding of third level was transferred by the outgoing government from the State to parents through a hike in the registration charge to €3,000.

The final details of how many CAO applicants will seek places in each programme are not as yet clear and will not be until 1st July next.

That is because over 6,000 have not as yet given any indication of what courses they wish to secure a place in.

But looking at the data published this morning, a number of national trends are clear:

Arts: these degrees remain way out ahead of all other programmes attracting 14,406 first preferences, but 235 less than in 2015. Maynooth University’s Bachelor of Arts saw its first preference applications increase by 16 per cent .

Business: First-preference applications have surged by 13 percent to 10,843.

Science: Applications remain steady at 8,213 first preferences.

Engineering and Technology: Applications have surged by 13 per cent to 7,207 indicating a growing confidence among students of a sustained economic recovery.

Nursing: Applications have surged by 11 per cent to 5,955, which will hugely increase points, unless the HSE unwinds its 2009 decision to strip over 300 nursing places out of the CAO system, to save themselves the relatively minor cost of paying the placement costs of these trainee nurses when in hospitals.

Education: Applications for places in our teacher trainer colleges have increased in line with the overall increase in demand of two per cent, to 4,839 first preference applications. This will be good news for DCU’s new Institute of Education, which now adds St. Patrick’s Drumcondra, Mater Dei, and The Church of Ireland teacher training college to the university’s own educational course offerings. It has registered a 9 per cent increase in 1st preference applications so far this year.

Medicine: Interestingly, applications have dropped slightly to 3,246 first preferences.

Law: First preference numbers are up nearly 6 per cent to 2,477, which is again a barometer of students confidence in economic recovery.

Other disciplines: Among the smaller disciplines, applications to architecture are up (+14 per cent) and building-related courses show a 7.5 per cent increase in applications. Conversely, first preference applications to agriculture are down twenty four per cent and to veterinary science down 7 per cent.

Most sought after university

Overall, UCD retains its place as the most sought after destination for applicants with 8,959 or 13.8 per cent of overall first preference applications.

Both Maynooth University and UCD - who have led the process in reducing the numbers of different course codes on offer - have not suffered in any way from this decisions, as their overall numbers of applications has remained strong.

Professor Philip Nolan, president of Maynooth University, said the numbers represented a real milestone for the university.

“Last year, we presented a fresh proposition to Irish students in the form of the new curriculum, and today we have received a resounding endorsement for it,” he said.

“ It is a tremendous vindication for the bold steps we took to offer students a unique opportunity to have greater flexibility and more control over their education.”

In the meantime, the aspirations expressed in these numbers this morning present a challenge to whatever government takes office in the coming months.

We cannot continue to kick the can of who funds third level education down the road.

The Cassells report on the future of funding of third level has been held back until after the election; it will now have to be acted on very quickly if we are to maintain high standards in our colleges.

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