College applicants are flocking to third-level courses linked to the economic recovery – with a surge in CAO applications for architecture, engineering, construction and business-related courses.
New figures show points increases are likely next month in higher degree courses linked to the built environment (+20 per cent), nursing (+9 per cent), engineering /technology (+7 per cent), law and architecture (both +6 per cent), while points decreases are likely in agriculture (-26 per cent), dentistry (-9 per cent) and arts/social sciences (-3 per cent) courses.
Despite the decrease in applications, arts remains by far the most popular area of study with 16,000 college applicants listing it as their first-choice for an honours degree.
Overall, a record number of applicants are seeking college places this year, which is putting pressure on the higher education sector which many say is facing a funding crisis.
The increased numbers are driven by a combination of population growth and policies promoting third-level education. Numbers are projected to increase by up to a third over the next decade or so.
The increase in applications to technology and construction courses will be greeted with relief by policy-makers and industry groups, who predict an acute skills shortages in these sectors.
Tony Donohoe, of employers’ group Ibec said: “There is a global war for talent in these sectors – especially in ICT (information and communications technology) – so it’s good to see more young people heading in this direction.”
The Construction Industry Federation (CIF) says the upsurge in school-leavers opting for courses in the sector will be crucial to meeting skills gaps.
“We’re hiring at a rate of about 1,000 jobs a month,” said Tom Parlon, director general of the CIF. “There has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of architectural roles available this year.”
The new CAO figures – which reflect applicants’ course choices since the “change of mind” deadline expired on July 1st – also show a continued shift away from ordinary degrees and certificates towards honours degree courses.
Some 71,000 college applicants have opted for a honours degree course as their first choice, up 2 per cent on last year. There was a corresponding decrease among those listing ordinary degree or higher certificate courses as their first choice.
This is likely to be seen as a worrying trend among policy-makers who are keen to build-up the status of the further education sector.
Ireland now has the highest proportion of young people with third-level qualifications across the EU, though many industry groups question whether so many are needed.
However, research by labour expert Dr John Sweeney shows that more than 50 per cent of the workforce in economies such as our own will still require “medium-level” skills.
Many link high college drop-out rates in some courses to a growth in the number of school-leavers opting for courses which they are not academically able for.
The question of how to fund higher education has come into sharp focus following the publication of the Cassells report, which found the current system is not fit for purpose.
The report proposes a series of options – including a student loan scheme – to ensure the system is able to cope with growing numbers. However, members of an Oireachtas education committee were told yesterday that it will not be in a position to debate the report for a number of months as it has not been formally placed before the Dáil.