Decrease in CAO applications to many Stem courses

Drop in applications comes despite initiatives to attract more students to the sector

Applications to physical sciences, including chemistry and physics, down 33 per cent. Photograph: iStock

Applications to physical sciences, including chemistry and physics, down 33 per cent. Photograph: iStock


First-preference applications for places in many third level Stem-related courses have fallen this year, with physical sciences, including chemistry and physics, dropping 33 per cent.

Mathematics, and information and communications technologies (ICT), also had fewer honours degree applications compared with last year.

The fall, recorded in course application figures released on Thursday by the Central Applications Office (CAO), comes despite Government initiatives to encourage young people into Stem-related areas and warnings by employer bodies of a critical shortage of graduates in the sector.

The latest figures show an overall fall in the number of applications for third-level places with those submitting level 8 applications (honours bachelor’s degrees) falling 2.9 per cent while level 7/6 (ordinary bachelor’s degrees) applications saw an 8 per cent fall in overall applications.

The CAO had a total of 77,171 applications for third-level places in 2018, compared with 80,568 in 2017, a fall of 4.2 per cent. The fall in applications recorded this year is likely to result in lower points requirements in some courses, when the CAO releases each institution’s first-round offers in August.

The greatest fall in applications to Stem-related courses were the physical sciences, which fell 33 per cent. Mathematics and statistics fell 12 per cent while, perhaps more significantly, the number of school leavers opting for ICT as their first choice fell 11 per cent.

Bucking the trend, and perhaps a reflection of the numbers taking biology for the Leaving Certificate, biological and related sciences recorded significant growth, with 2,855 opting to choose it as their first preference, an increase of 14 per cent.

Constructive change

On a more positive note for the economy and perhaps after heeding warnings of a critical shortage of engineering graduates, particularly in construction-related areas, applications for disciplines associated with the building economy recorded an increase.

Those applying for engineering represented a 4 per cent improvement on last year’s figure while architecture and construction was up 3 per cent and applications by those wishing to study law were up 3 per cent.

The number seeking places in arts as their first preference is down 13 per cent, while primary (+8 per cent) and secondary (+7 per cent) teaching saw strong growth.

The second-greatest drop recorded was in the number of applicants opting to study journalism, down 12 per cent. Humanities (excluding languages) recorded a 2 per cent drop, while applications to study languages fell 9 per cent.

Veterinary is also down, with 11 per cent fewer opting for the course as their first preference, from 2,035 in 2017 to 1,926 in 2018. Dentistry saw a marginal increase of 3 per cent while medicine had 2,918 first preference applications, representing a 1 per cent fall from the previous year. Medicine was down 1 per cent, while nursing saw a recovery of 2 per cent following a drop in 2017.