Next generation of graduates putting passion before job prospects


Students are not letting the job market dictate their choice of third- level course, despite the economic crisis

NUMEROUS HINTS emerged as to where the likelihood of a lucrative and successful career might lie for students entering third-level education last month.

Time and again it has been said that the Republic’s education system is falling short when it comes to producing graduates with qualifications in science, technology, engineering and maths. And this fact was not allowed to escape the Leaving Cert class of 2011.

Unsurprisingly, the points needed for science, technology and agriculture courses increased significantly this year as students eyed the future.

But can graduates taking courses on the basis of prospects, rather than passion or aptitude, correct an imbalance between degrees awarded and labour-market requirements?

“There probably are obvious opportunities out there in some areas, but our advice would always be to follow your interests and passions,” said Ibec’s head of education policy, Tony Donohue.

The policy chief believes a fresh approach is needed to how maths and science are taught at second level to remedy shortcomings.

“I think it would be a mistake for anyone, especially at 18 years of age or younger, to say, ‘look I’m going to take a course just because there are opportunities there’.”

The lure of a safe career path proved popular for some this year. But for others in Dublin’s colleges the prospect of devoting four years of their lives to a subject, purely to enhance their chances of securing a job, was hard to digest.

Katy Gaffney, a first-year philosophy and classics student at Trinity College Dublin, said her decision was about doing what was right now rather than down the line. “I’m really, really interested in both subjects,” said the Co Wicklow native.

“I know there won’t really be a career at the end of it but I want to study something that I love, because it’s four years of my life.”

Maryann Clifford, from Cork, a first-year student at University College Dublin, decided to study English and drama because she has always wanted to be a scriptwriter; not because it was going to be lucrative.

“[Finding work] will be hard but I can always fall back on teaching if needs be,” she said.

Laura Minogue, a Trinity student from Sutton, Dublin, said it was reassuring to know that a subject she had chosen – a consequence of passion rather than prospects – was in demand.

“You’re always thinking about [job prospects] but it was also about doing something that I was interested in. I suppose I feel that science is the way forward, so I’ll always hopefully have some sort of job there,” she said.

Although providing students with qualifications that will stand to them as they enter the world of work remains a priority, Dublin City University is also seeking to instil employer-friendly attributes in its charges so as to produce “rounded graduates”.

DCU president Prof Brian MacCraith said the university was committed to producing qualified people who were “creative and enterprising”. Its choice of attributes followed consultation with chief executives and managing directors, among others, he said.

“It’s ultimately so that graduates will be successful in life,” he said, adding that 2,500 classes had been rewritten to move the initiative – Generation 21 – forward.

“It’s a rounding of the graduate so the graduate is more able to start engaging with the world of work or society in general.”

Donohue, who said that firms were seeking adaptable staff with a willingness to think in an analytical fashion, said an approach – such as the DCU model – should be prioritised by universities, especially in turbulent economic times.

Back on campus, Eanna O’Donnell, a final-year law and German student at Trinity, said he was conscious that he would have to make a career move before long, but he wasn’t going to let the economy dictate his eventual landing place.

“You try to concentrate on your degree . . . but at the same time you have to worry about job possibilities in the future,” he said.

“But at the same time I don’t want to be rushed into a job because I’d hate to be rushed into a job I don’t like in the end and think I’m stuck here for years.”