‘Worrying’ drop of 5% in CAO applications for nursing courses

Applications for construction-related degrees up in show of confidence in economy

Nursing: comparatively low starting salaries blamed for drop in applications

There has been a more than 5 per cent drop in school leavers opting for nursing as their first choice of career this year, according to new figures released on Friday by the Central Applications Office.

The latest figures show those applying to study nursing are down 325 (-5.47 per cent) to 5,629, while applications for places in other healthcare-related courses where salaries are generally considered to be higher have increased 219 (+9.7 per cent) to 2,464.

Applications for agriculture and courses related to the construction sector show an increase, reflecting a continuing confidence in areas that are witnessing economic and export growth.

In total the CAO received 71,595 first-preference applications in 2017, at level 8 honours degree level, a small increase of 307 (+0.43 per cent) on last year’s number.


The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said the issue of pay for nurses needs to be addressed as the CAO figures show a "worrying trend" in the numbers seeking college places in nursing.

"What we put it down to is that you are looking at a four-year honours degree now to become a nurse," said Dave Hughes, deputy general secretary of the INMO. "Compared with all the other four-year honours degrees like teaching, like speech therapy, like occupational therapy, salaries are much lower to start with. I think students are looking at careers and they see the nurses are on much lower pay than other equivalent degree courses, and it is now showing."

In May, Minister for Health Simon Harris announced a series of measures designed to "significantly improve" the staffing of nursing and midwifery posts in the public health service and the number of undergraduate places was increased as part of the package.

The fall in applications recorded this year combined with the increase in available college places is likely to result in a lower points requirement when the CAO releases each institution’s first-round offers in August.

Competitive dentistry

Points for medical programmes are likely to remain stable as the numbers applying showed only a small increase of 17 applications (+.58 per cent) compared with last year. Those hoping to study dentistry are likely to face stiffer competition for places, after a 13.8 per cent increase in interest.

Reversing the trend towards Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects in recent years, such courses recorded a drop in interest. Applications for science fell 171 (-1.81 per cent) while engineering and technology-related courses saw a more substantial fall, with 328 fewer applications (-3.9 per cent).

The overall popularity of business remains strong with related programmes recording a marginal growth of 203 applications (+1.62 per cent) to 12,750.

Those applying to study law (+6.5 per cent), architecture (+5.9per cent) and other construction-related courses (+4.75 per cent) also increased in number.

Agriculture and horticulture saw the biggest percentage increase (22.3 per cent), with 591 students selecting it as their top preference – an increase of 108 students on the previous year.

Arts continues to be the most popular area of study, with 16,485 listing it as the first choice on their CAO application. Reversing a slight drop of 3 per cent in 2016, arts courses saw a 2.4 per cent increase in applications in 2017 with an additional 390 applicants listing it as their first choice for an honours degree.

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Iriseoir agus Eagarthóir Gaeilge An Irish Times. Éanna Ó Caollaí is The Irish Times' Irish Language Editor, editor of The Irish Times Student Hub, and Education Supplements editor.