With all the hype about the CAO, it's easy to overlook the significant numbers going to UK universities each year.
They don't feature in the annual reports about the percentage of Irish students in college, but they are significant.
We're told that 55pc of the relevant age group goes on to higher education, but in reality the percentage is closer to 60pc because of the UK universities and also because of the smaller numbers going other countries. Should we be worried about it? Well, if you're a student who just missed a place in a high-demand course and can afford the fees, then it could be right for you. But if you are a university leader scrambling to attract as many high-flyers as possible, then the loss of so many bright young people is a matter of concern.
Also, inadequate spending is threatening the quality of Irish higher education. The numbers going to the UK have not changed that much in the past few years but there seems to be a sea change in the quality of the student going -- more of them with high points seem to be enrolling in Northern Ireland or Britain. Scotland, in particular, has become very popular. Ryanair, the absence of fees in Scotland, cheaper accommodation, a wider choice of courses, better facilities -- these are all important factors.
Granted, the Higher Education Authority has responded to part of the flow by increasing the places available in some areas such as medicine and pharmacy. This will have an impact on the numbers going to the UK. It will also be interesting to see how courses leading to jobs in the construction sector -- such as civil engineering and architecture -- do over the next few years.
There are some questions raised by the UK statistics. For instance, why the sudden increase in the numbers taking theology and religious studies; why were there 194 students
taking computer studies in UK universities two years ago, when similar courses in Irish institutions were crying out for them? The numbers at postgraduate -- particularly doctorate -- levels are also a surprise. Ireland desperately needs to boost its doctorate output to stay ahead of the game.
We have fewer than 5,000 postgraduates pursuing doctorates in Ireland but there are almost 1,200 Irish post graduates doing the same in UK universities, many of which have much better facilities and help for students. Many will choose to remain in the UK when they are needed at home. The competition for the brightest and the best undergraduates and postgraduate students is about to hot up.
more of them with high points seem to be enrolling in Northern Ireland or Britain.