Half of applicants to miss out on a place at college
ONLY half of this year's record number of third level applicants will get a college place next autumn, the Irish Independent has learned.
There are just under two candidates for every place in our colleges and universities, new figures released last night reveal.
The jobs crisis has sparked a huge surge in applications as school leavers compete for places against unprecedented numbers of jobless adults seeking to upskill.
The rise in applications is likely to push up entry points for many courses, particularly in the arts and sciences.
When the normal CAO deadline for applications closed at 5.15pm yesterday, a massive 71,232 had applied online compared with 67,634 at the same time last year. The figures do not take into account the estimated 2,000 others who have applied in writing. And it is expected a further 3,000 to 4,000 more will have applied by the late-closing date of May 1.
Around 14pc of current first year students are classified as 'mature', over the age of 23. However, this figure is set to rocket this year.
Last Friday the Central Bank predicted unemployment will reach 13.5pc by the end of 2010.
"The increased competition is bound to have some impact on the points needed," Eilis Coakley, president of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors said last night. Ms Coakley said redundant young adults had studied the options and saw going back to college offered them an opportunity to improve skills.
The near collapse of apprenticeships is also pushing more young males down the college route, especially for technician level courses in the institutes of technology.
The increased demand for places could not come at a worse time for the third-level colleges, which are already struggling with fewer staff, tighter budgets and more students following their highest ever intake last autumn.
The Higher Education Authority has warned that a point may come when numbers will have to be capped, rather than let the quality of higher education suffer.
It is expected the forthcoming national strategy report will re-open the issue of some form of student contribution to third level education costs, even though the idea has officially been put on hold for the duration of the lifetime of the current Government.
An indication of the problems facing the sector is revealed in new figures which show a loss of 350 full-time jobs in the institutes of technology between January and September of last year.
It is expected most jobs in the sector will be shed by the end of this year.
Losses on a similar scale are reported in universities.
Figures released by Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe in response to a parliamentary question from Labour's Joanna Tuffy show full-time staff numbers in the 14 institutes dropped from 8,889 in 2008 to 8,539 last year. Meanwhile, separate figures show the number of full-time undergraduates in the institutes rose from 54,464 to 55,805 during the same period.
In addition, post-graduate numbers rose to 2,419.
The Teachers' Union of Ireland said the fall in staff numbers was a matter of grave concern, representing an overall cut of 4pc in staffing levels over a nine-month period.
"This is having a negative effect on courses, some of which are being cut down in content as the resources of the institutes are stripped away," general secretary Peter MacMenamim said.
"Service to students is undoubtedly negatively affected when posts -- academic or otherwise -- are not filled.
"This unacceptable situation will be exacerbated the longer this retrograde moratorium remains in place," he added.
A staffing framework agreement allows third-level colleges some flexibility in filling vacancies.
But institute sources say there are particular problems caused by the dramatic drop in the number of apprentices who have to spend some time in the institutes, but whose teachers are not now needed in huge numbers.
"If they can be retrained, that's fine, but it's not always possible," a source told the Irish Independent.