Viewpoint: High calibre of Ag Science students
Published 19/08/2015 | 02:30
The numbers of students ticking those all important CAO forms for agricultural science and farming-related courses showed a significant drop off this year.
Like a racehorse, it was simply following form. In the peaks and troughs over the decades, when the economy is on the up, then the popularity of construction, engineering and business courses begin an upward climb.
There was a 19pc drop in the numbers putting agriculture and horticulture courses as their first preference - down from 811 to 658.
Yet, the popularity of agriculture among high-achieving school-leavers still remains strong, after the last few years when agriculture was touted as the mainstay of the Irish economy and never far from the news agenda.
Once again, agriculture courses would appear to be attracting extremely high-calibre students as, despite the drop in applicants, the CAO round one offers have shown a rise in points for most of the courses.
The points for UCD's popular Agricultural Science courses is often judged as the indicator of interest in the sector, with the first round offers for the course up by five points this year to a record high of 470.
This has been mirrored by a rise in many of the other courses as well, as despite increasing by 70 points last year UCD's Horticulture and Agri-Environments increased by 20 points and now sits at 410, Equine Animal Science at UCD was up 20 points to 445, Food Science and Health at University of Limerick surged from 415 to 450 points, while the Agricultural Science course at Waterford Institute of Technology rose five points to 415.
Interest remained strong in other areas as well with the Dairy Business course at UCD remaining steady at 445 points.
It is not too long ago that a far more modest Leaving Certificate would have guaranteed access to a top course.
Just a glance at the points back in 2007, when UCD's agricultural science course stood at 315, emphasises the massive resurgence of interest in agricultural science.
Despite the woes over milk prices, high-achieving students continue to be attracted by the positivity for jobs in the sector with strong prices for beef and exports, including high-quality milk and sports nutrition powders, remaining strong.
Many of these young people are trying to pick courses that may help them remain in the bedrock of their rural communities, with hopes of taking home a decent wage.
The sector blueprint Food Harvest 2020 sets out an additional 23,000 jobs in the sector, while FoodWise 2025 envisages an 85pc increase in food exports to €19bn.
Many in the sector are working hard to help ensure these aspirations turn into realities.
Let's hope the choices remain when this year's school-leavers have completed their third level journey.