CAO 2018: Are students giving up on the arts?
Anxiety over job prospects may be behind move towards engineering, business and law
The Olympia Theatre stage. Creative arts courses have never really promised a glittering career or fabulous wealth, save for a very lucky few. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill
Is this the day the music died? Academics working in the creative arts will be disappointed that CAO points for music, animation, fine arts and theatre have plummeted this year.
Interest in humanities degrees – covering areas such as modern languages, history, philosophy, literature and politics – has also declined with points falling for the 10th successive year.
At the same time, points have risen for courses in engineering, construction, law and business.
So, what’s driving these changes and what do they tell us about the choices that young people are making?
Points for several popular music courses at CIT have seen the most dramatic decline, while they are also down for music at Trinity and DIT.
And despite Ireland’s acclaim and success in animation and film production, demand for these courses has fallen too.
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Creative arts courses have never really promised a glittering career or fabulous wealth, save for a very lucky few.
This didn’t really put students off in the past, with course providers emphasising the value of the arts and creativity to workplaces, but that message isn’t resonating with the anxious class of 2018.
The school-leavers of 2018 are a unique breed. They’ve experienced highs, lows and new highs. This particular cohort of Generation Z started primary school at a time when the economy was (superficially, at least) in rude health, and their parents had sky-high expectations for them. They finished primary school as the economy fell apart and the IMF moved in.
Over the next few years, many of them watched as their parents lost their jobs and their siblings and cousins emigrated.
Most of them started secondary school in 2012, when there was no housing crisis and austerity hacked at the knees of their education system. Since 2014, however, the economy started to pick up and, with it, the opportunities available to them.
The internet-savvy and technological generation Z are the first true digital and social media natives.
They’re also the most anxious generation and more prone to worry than any previous one. They’ve seen and experienced (and heard from their single biggest influence, their parents) the problems caused by recession and the inequalities of the recovery.
Young people and their parents understand that the days of a job for life are long gone, that the economy can turn on a whim and that they need a set of skills that will have longevity.
Indeed, this emphasis on “future-proofing” is what drove UCD to change its arts course, offering three distinct strands including a new four-year degree with work experience, but students have responded warily in its first year.
It’s possible that this turn away from creative arts and humanities, and the embrace of engineering, construction, business and law is influenced by these experiences and anxieties.
Arts and humanities graduates are vital for the economy and society but messages about lower employment and earning rates in the early years, coupled with the absence of a defined career path, have taken a toll; the promise of “transferable skills” doesn’t seem to be cutting it.
Science and engineering are seen as offering solid and flexible career paths while the recovery of architecture and construction courses follows a sustained effort to attract students to these areas in the face of a biting skills shortage.
Finally, would-be arts graduates who don’t have an aptitude for science, engineering and construction may be choosing law and business degrees which offer higher initial earnings and a clearer career path with flexible career opportunities.