CAO 2017: Demand for engineering courses drops despite skills shortage

Nursing and education also down, while law, construction are up

The number of students seeking college places in engineering and technology has fallen this year despite high-profile attempts to tackle a skills crisis facing the sector.

The numbers of applications have also fallen in areas such as nursing, education, perhaps linked to difficulties facing young graduates securing jobs and controversy over two-tier pay scales.

Overall, college applicants are being drawn towards third-level courses linked to most areas of the growing economy, with increases in demand for architecture, construction, law and business-related courses.

Latest Central Applications Office (CAO) figures show the number seeking colleges places in 2017 has remained static following last year's record number of just over 76,000.


At honours degree level the biggest increases in first preferences are in agriculture/horticulture (up 17 per cent), healthcare courses for areas such as sports, nutrition and occupational therapy (up 17 per cent) and the construction sector (11 per cent).

There are also significant increases in law, veterinary medicine (up 9 per cent), architecture (up 7 per cent) and dentistry (up 5 per cent).

Arts, which remains the most popular sector for applicants, remains static compared to last year.

By contrast, the numbers of applications have fallen in areas such as nursing, education and engineering.

Pay scales

A 5 per cent drop in the number of first-preference applications for engineering and technology is likely to alarm industry groups, who say the sector urgently needs more skilled graduates.

The biggest single drop is in nursing (down 10 per cent), though this may be partly influenced by the removal of courses for mature students in the sector.

There are other significant falls in areas such as pharmacy (down 8 per cent), physiotherapy (down 4 per cent) and education (down 3 per cent).

In a statement the CAO’s general manager Joseph O’Grady said the majority of CAO applicants would be permitted to use its “change of mind” facility when it opens on May 5th.

This allows applicants to add, remove or reorder course choices. This is likely to result in changes to the figures released Thursday.

Among the universities, Maynooth University and Dublin City Universities was one of the big winners, recording their highest ever level of first-preference applications.

At Maynooth,m its first preferences were up 5 per cent on last year. It says its arts programme is now the most popular course in the country when measured by the number of first-preference applications.

New model

Maynooth University president Prof

Philip Nolan

attributes the college’s growth to its new model which offers students greater flexibility and the opportunity to study across disciplines

DCU said it received a record number of applications with almost 6,000 students selecting one of its undergraduate programmes as a first choice.

Its faculty of humanities and social sciences saw the biggest increase in demand, with applications for its undergraduate programmes up over 15 per cent.

Its engineering courses bucked a national trend, with first preferences for electronic and computer engineering up by more than 80 per cent and biomedical engineering up just over 61 per cent. Its common entry engineering also rose, with an increase of 16 per cent.

DCU president Prof Brian MacCraith said its increases in areas of law, engineering and business reflected a desire among school-leavers to develop skills through industry-relevant programmes.

Trinity College Dublin said its first preferences were up almost 2 per cent, while UCD said its were down 2.7 per cent following a decade of growing numbers.

UCD said some of its biggest increases in first-preferences were for radiography (up 24 per cent) and business and law (up 17 per cent), with significant increases in other biomedical and veterinary courses.

Maynooth University said its biggest increase was for business (32 per cent), followed by media studies (16 per cent), psychology (15 per cent) and biological sciences (9 per cent).

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent