CAO Watch: Am I a failure if I don’t get a college place?

There are many alternative routes where school-leavers can build on their talents

A Higher Education Authority report shows one in six  college students are failing to progress past their first year. Photograph: Eric Luke

A Higher Education Authority report shows one in six college students are failing to progress past their first year. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Third-level colleges, like any businesses which need prospective customers, follow a simple rule: give them what they want. This equates to a place on a CAO course, preferably in a higher-level university degree.

The number of Leaving Cert students progressing on to a CAO programme has increased by 25 per cent. More students than ever are progressing. This reality makes many of those who do not take this route feel marginalised .

For those who make it, progressing on to third level should be a cause for celebration. For many, however, there is disappointment. A Higher Education Authority report shows one in six is failing to progress past their first year. The problem is particularly acute among institutes of technology, where there are dropout rates of 30 per cent plus in computing, construction and engineering. Have we, as a society, created a scenario where school leavers and others see securing anything other than an honours degree as a failure?

There are a myriad of routes in which any school leaver or adult can build on their skills. The third level academic option is the wrong choice for a significant proportion.

Other northern European countries have always acknowledged that aptitudes cover a wide spectrum. They offer a hands-on vocational stream within their second-level education system, which provides their society with highly trained craftspeople who have equal if not higher social standing to those who follow the academic route.

Apprenticeships

Construction Industry Federation

There are also thousands of opportunities open to school leavers and others to progress directly into employment and training with employers in the public and private sectors such as the Garda, Defence Forces, local authorities, and the HSE.

Finally, there are students not ready to make career choices. This should not be seen as failure.Whatever we do as a society, we need to step back from seeing securing an honours degree through the CAO as being the be-all and end-all of successful career progression.