Strong demand to raise points for science courses


THE LATEST figures from the CAO demonstrate how arts and business courses – the twin pillars of the college admissions system – are both in decline.

With an estimated 100,000 unemployed graduates, students and their parents are switching focus to different disciplines with much better job prospects.

The 18 per cent increase in applications for higher degree courses in science is the most striking feature of today’s figures.

Strong demand for science courses will put upward pressure on the CAO points. Last year, the entry requirement for science at UCD increased to 455. In 2006, students could gain entry to this programme with fewer than 300 points.

All of this underlines how the message from teachers, business and government about the opportunities in science is filtering through to students.

However courses in science and technology still account for only about 20 per cent of all higher- degree first-preference applications. By contrast, more than 42 per cent of applications are for courses in arts/social science and business.

This year, more than 8,800 students opted for higher-degree science as their first choice while 5,400 opted for engineering and technology. This is still dwarfed by the 15,600 who made arts or social science their first preference.

That said, there is an increasing mismatch between what students actually want to study and the courses on offer from third-level colleges. Only 785 students listed arts in UCD as their first preference this year, down from over 1,080 in 2004. There was also a marked fall-off in demand for some arts courses in Trinity, including English (-8 per cent) and history (-12 per cent).

Instead, it is science and new courses in new technology which are generating a buzz.

At UCD, demand for courses in science is up 31 per cent since 2009. At TCD science courses registering substantial increases in first preference applications include medicine chemistry (+48 per cent); earth science (+45 per cent) and nanoscience, physics and chemistry of advanced materials (+23 per cent).

The changing trends have been very good news for some colleges and less good for others.

Universities such as DCU – associated in the public mind with the high-tech industry – have seen a boom in numbers. Conversely, the Dublin Institute of Technology, which pioneered innovative courses in the property and related sectors, has seen a collapse in applications for these courses.

In an ideal world, colleges might like to shift resources to high- demand areas and scale back those in declining areas, but the Croke Park agreement – which guarantees no pay cuts and job losses – rules this out.

In other trends, applications are up by 300 from Britain where students face vastly increased student charges. TCD said students from Britain and the North represent 9 per cent of all applicants this year.

The figures also show a collapse in applications for level 7 programmes in social care and early childhood education, reflecting a lack of confidence in employment opportunities in these sectors. UCD registered an impressive 10 per cent increase in applications, In TCD the increase was 5 per cent, and in NUI Maynooth 4 per cent.