CAO points set to drop as applications decline

Most substantial falls register in chemistry, journalism, ICT and the arts courses

Points requirements for many college courses are likely to fall this year as new figures show a significant drop in the number of CAO applications.

Overall, applications are down by almost 5 per cent. One of the key factors behind the fall is a sharp decrease among mature applicants.

Observers say this may be linked to increased employment opportunities in the growing economy.

There has also been a drop in applications from Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, amid rising uncertainty about the impact of Brexit.


Overall, the reduction is set to contribute to an easing of pressure on points requirements for many courses.

The sharpest year-on-year drops in first preferences were in areas such as physical sciences or chemistry (-36 per cent), journalism and information (-26 per cent), ICT (-16 per cent), environment (-15 per cent) and arts (-13 per cent).

The drop in applications for science and IT, in particular, are likely to concern policy-makers who forecast major shortages of graduates from so-called Stem courses.

The biggest increases, on the other hand, were in areas such as biological and related sciences (+ 10 per cent), engineering, agriculture (both +6 per cent) and education (+4 per cent).

Supply crisis

The increase in applications to education will be positively received given what trade unions says is a “crisis” in teacher supply across key subjects.

Applications for both primary teaching (+8 per cent) and secondary teaching (+4 per cent) have increased.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton said he welcomed the increases and said teaching remained a "very attractive career option".

The demand for courses may yet change significantly as applicants can readjust their course preferences up until July 1st. In addition, just over 6,000 students have yet to state their course preferences.

In all, some 72,643 applications were received by the CAO by the February 1st closing date, a decrease of 3,443 (-4.5 per cent) applicants on the previous year.

The number of mature applications – those aged over 23 years – is down by 1,168 (-12 per cent).

In addition, the number of applicants from disadvantaged communities applying through a special reduced-points access route is down by 1,023 (-9 per cent) from 2017.

Some observers say the expansion of more affordable further education options, such as apprenticeships, may be behind these changes. However, many may also be entering the labour force as unskilled workers.

Young men

Lewis Purser of the Irish Universities Association, noting the drop in applications among young men (-7 per cent) was sharper than the overall reduction, warned an increase in unskilled entrants entering the labour market could have "worrying longer-term implications".

The CAO said the latest data is subject to change when late applications are taken into account and the “change of mind” facility closes on July 1st at 5:15pm.

Eileen Keleghan of the CAO said late applications are being accepted up to May 1st.

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