CAO surge as adults seek place in college
THERE has been a surge in adults seeking to return to college, with almost one in five applications coming from the over-23s so far this year.
A record 14,606 mature applicants have sought places through the CAO out of a total of 77,126 applications to date. The figures are expected to climb a little higher over the next few weeks.
At the end of the application season last year, there were 74,621 applications and 12,593 came from mature applicants.
Most adult applicants want to upgrade their skills to give them a better foothold in the jobs market. Many have lost jobs and are looking for a qualification to get back to work, particularly in the 'smart economy'.
Although unemployment is rising rapidly for graduates, their jobless rate is still lower than for those who leave school at Leaving Cert level or before.
Last year, about 45,000 first-year places were filled through the normal CAO processes. Others were created last year through special labour activation measures, and this will happen again this year.
The increase in places comes at a time when the colleges are under severe financial pressures and have to reduce their staff numbers by 6pc over a two-year period. The authorities are confident that the reduction will be achieved by December.
Some colleges are proving more popular than others for mature applicants. The Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT) says it will offer over 240 places to mature students this summer, an increase of more than 140pc on last year's figures.
"This figure shows that there is a strong demand for higher education in Ireland," said DkIT president Denis Cummins.
"In particular, it reflects how challenging economic times have led to individuals opting to not only increase their skills but in some cases opt for a completely new career."
He said the institute was delighted to support these students at home, at a time when so many people were leaving Ireland and seeking new skills and employment abroad.
"While some of these new students will have faced unemployment in recent years, the decision to take up study at third level is a positive one for them, for the wider DkIT community and will have socioeconomic benefits for the country," he said.
It was likely that more than 20pc of first year places would go to mature students, which would see DkIT exceed the national targets, he added.