Colleges may raise maths requirement due to high drop-out rates

As many as 80% of students in some courses failing to progress beyond first year

A number of third-level institutions are considering raising the entry requirements for a range of maths-related courses following concern over high drop-out levels.

On Monday The Irish Times disclosed that up to 80 per cent of students in maths-related courses are failing to progress beyond their first-year in college.

There is concern within the Higher Education Authority over non-progression rates in computer science courses, in particular, given a severe skills shortage in the information and computer technology (ICT) sector.

In a statement, the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology - which has one of the highest overall non-progression rates - said it was reviewing entry criteria for courses which have a strong maths component.


Its mechanical engineering course, for example, recorded a non-progression rate of about 66 per cent between 2014 and 2015.

Leaving Certificate

A spokesman said low performance in Leaving Certificate maths seemed to have impacted on pass rates in both the maths and engineering science modules of the course.

“As a result of this, the college is considering raising the maths entry requirement for programmes where this is a strong determinant of progression,” it said.

A number of other institutes of technology have also signalled plans to review entry criteria for maths-related courses, given high drop-out rates.

Overall, about one-third of computer science students across all institutes of technology are dropping out after their first year in college.

The Irish Computer Society, meanwhile, said the figures indicated that many second-level students were not sufficiently exposed to aspects of IT such as coding before they go to college.

"Sometimes the wrong students sign up to computer science courses, whose designation, duplication and lack of clear objectives are confusing for students," said the society's Mary Cleary.

‘Digital natives’

She said the concept that Irish students are “ digital natives” is a fallacy.

“Confident leisure and social use of technology is not the same as productive use of tools for collaboration, sophisticated document production and data analysis,” she said.

A report to be published later this year by the Higher Education Authority shows the problem is most acute in higher certificate (level 6) and ordinary degree (level 7) courses.

These courses tend to have requirements of between 250 and 300 points, yet the maths elements of these courses can prove very demanding for students.

The findings echo the concerns of senior academics such as DCU president Prof Brian MacCraith, who has said a considerable minority of students are now reliant on learning supports in maths to succeed at third level.

Prof MacCraith, who is chair of a Government education review group, has said there were frequently voiced concerns among lecturers over the ability of first-year students in courses such as science, technology, engineering and maths.

Other research shows key factors in drop-out rates include students making ill-informed course choices.

Why Students Leave, a report commissioned by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, gathered responses from more than 4,000 students as part of its research published last year.

Exams pressure

The main reason for dropping out, it found, was choosing the wrong course. Most made their choice during the final terms of secondary school when they were under pressure with examinations. This led many students to make uninformed or rushed decisions.

There are other issues too such as financial considerations. This was a concern for many students, particularly living expenses, accommodation and travel costs. These were especially difficult for students moving from rural to urban areas and included those who commuted long distances daily.

Another reason for non-completion related to health and medical issues, predominantly emotional and mental health.

Third level colleges say they are taking greater steps to provide support as early as possible for students who are struggling.

In GMIT, for example, the college has appointed a retention officer and is resourcing a range of one-to-one supports.

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