Smart economy suffers most as 10,000 students dropping out
Thousands of students failing college courses vital to Ireland's smart economy are among more than 10,000 who started college in September but will never graduate.
One in four students will drop out, according to a new report, with the highest failure rates in crucial computing and technology courses considered vital for the development of the so-called 'smart economy'.
Many students on these courses fail to get past their first year, mainly because of their poor levels of maths, a major new study carried out by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) reveals.
The study confirms employers' fears that not enough able students with good maths results are enrolling in courses in science and technology.
It shows that students who do not obtain at least a D-grade in higher-level maths or A-grade in ordinary-level maths in the Leaving Certificate are the most likely to drop out of their scientific or technological courses.
More than 60pc of students with poor maths results will not get past first year on science, computing or engineering courses.
Employers' group IBEC last night said that the report highlighted how proficiency in maths in secondary schools fed into proficiency in science, engineering, and technology courses at third level.
Head of education policy Tony Donohoe called for up to €7m a year up until 2018 to be invested in the upskilling of maths teachers.
"This investment should be made regardless of the fiscal constraints," he said.
And Mr Donohoe said teachers should have maths either as a main subject in their primary degree or a post-graduate qualification in the subject.
He welcomed the introduction of bonus points for maths in 2012 and the Project Maths curriculum, but said much more needed to be done to improve standards in schools.
The new statistics also reveal that the overall drop-out rate across all courses from first year to final year is 20pc in the universities. It is even higher -- at between 30-33pc -- in the institutes of technology.
Males are more likely to quit than females. But this reflects lower levels of performance in the Leaving Cert among males generally.
But the best indicator of success in college is attainment in maths followed by attainment in English in the Leaving Cert.
The HEA study confirmed that first year was the 'make-or-break' year, with the biggest drop-out rates, ranging from a high of 27pc in computer science to only 2pc in medicine.
Smaller percentages of students drop out in subsequent years.
In contrast with technology courses, the drop-out rates from professional courses are very low at 3pc in first year for law, 4pc for veterinary medicine and 5pc for dentistry -- all courses with high points.
For its study, the HEA analysed the progression rates of students between the academic years 2007/2008 and 2008/2009.
HEA head of statistics Dr Vivienne Patterson said that the overall progression rate of 85pc from first to second year compared favourably with other countries. So too did Irish completion and graduation rates.
If anything, completion rates were likely to have improved through a period of sustained expansion in higher education, she said.