Students opt for career-focused courses

Strong demand for computing, science, engineering and agriculture courses have pushed up points significantly

Syama Gollapalli and Conor Nolan with their Leaving Cert results at Portmarnock Community School, Portmarnock, Co Dublin.Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

Syama Gollapalli and Conor Nolan with their Leaving Cert results at Portmarnock Community School, Portmarnock, Co Dublin.Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill


The class of 2013 has adopted a decidedly practical approach when it comes to this year’s CAO, with a rise in demand for courses that are seen to enhance career prospects. Points requirements for business, computing, science and engineering have all increased.

Points inflation also continues to be driven by bonus points for higher maths. This is affecting points in the jobs-orientated options but also most other subjects to some degree.

The bonus-point impact should not be underestimated. More than 13,000 students sat higher maths and 96.6 per cent of them secured the 25 bonus points awarded for a pass or higher. This carried an additional 314,288 points into the CAO system and these are rippling out to touch all subjects.

There is also a changed pattern to student preferences, with strong demand for courses that could help deliver a job further down the line.

This can be seen in continued student interest in science, engineering and technology courses, given the buoyancy of the jobs market for graduates with the skills associated with these subjects. It has kept points for common entry science at UCD and at Trinity above the 500 mark at 505 and 510 points respectively. And all other universities are seeing some growth or at least level pegging in science.

Common-entry engineering is following suit with even stronger growth in points demand, for example up 15 to 475 at UCD and up 20 to 390 at DCU. Electrical and electronic engineering at NUI Galway is up 60 to 515 with other engineering courses including civil, mechanical and structural all seeing rises in points by from 10 to 45 points.

The ongoing Government campaign to get more IT graduates into the workplace with the promise of a well-paid job at home has also affected points requirements and demand for computer science. There are some surprising jumps – for example a 90-point rise from 340 to 430 at UCC for the subject, with DIT’s business computing and computing offerings both up 25 points to 365 and 375 respectively.

Arts points fall
These trends have not been repeated in the single largest faculty in the entire university system – arts. Many students who plumped for arts will be delighted to see a 15-point fall at UCD from 355 to 340 and from 370 to 360 at NUI Maynooth. UCC and NUIG remain unchanged at 335 and 300. UL saw a 25-point jump for its Arts Joint Honours programme. The waning of interest in arts can perhaps be explained by students’ desire to see a well-defined career emerge from their degree programme.

Agriculture and food are other areas that have seen sustained growth as our food research, development and production industry grows apace. Ag science has seen a steady rise in interest over the past six years but this year recorded a 10 per cent jump in first-preference applications.

UCD and UCC are the main colleges offering agriculture/ food, and points are up for both, as well as for dairy, forestry and equine science. Food science is up 35 to 440 at UCC and 15 to 470 at UCD. Food innovation is up 50 to 330 at DIT.

The sluggish economy helped to moderate student interest in business and commerce courses in the years that followed the 2008 crash, but the tide now seems to have turned and student first preferences for the subject rose by 6.5 per cent this year. This has pushed up points for commerce/business, with a 35-point rise to 375 at NUI Galway, 35 to 410 at UL and 15 to 440 at DCU. Points are also up at NUI Maynooth and DIT for business subjects.

As predicted by the The Irish Times in July, points for health- related subjects are down across the board except for medicine. Veterinary at UCD is down 10 to 575 (random selection), dentistry is down 10 to 580 at UCC and down five to 585 (random selection) at Trinity.

Occupational therapy is down five points in Cork and Trinity, and up five points in Galway, while pharmacy is down 10 in the three colleges that offer it – Cork, College of Surgeons and Trinity. Physiotherapy is down 15 at Trinity, Surgeons and UCD and up five at UL.

Medicine, however, is up (from between one to four points) at all five institutions that offer it.