COLLEGE hopefuls are picking courses in science, technology, agriculture and business as they chase 'new economy' jobs, CAO figures reveal.
A remarkable swing back to business this year – up 4pc – is the first sign of growth in this area since 2008 and may suggest a growing sense of entrepreneurship among school-leavers and others heading to third level.
By contrast, degrees leading to careers in professions such as healthcare, law and architecture, have lost their gloss for many school-leavers.
Applications for medicine, for instance, are down 6pc, although with 3,481 first preferences, the competition among high achievers will remain very keen.
Ongoing cuts in education are being blamed for a continuing drop – 8pc – in the applications for teacher training.
Meanwhile, the lack of activity in the building industry has seen a further 10pc fall in demand for courses in the construction and property-related areas.
The tight focus on courses seen as more likely to lead directly to employment saw the combined arts/social science disciplines drop 5pc in first preferences in 2012, although it remains the most popular study category.
In the swings and roundabouts of the college entry process, competition among students is likely to see CAO points increases for some courses, and no change or an easing of points where demand is down.
The snapshot of student preferences is contained in a breakdown of applications submitted to the CAO by February 1, by each of 17 broad areas of study.
Overall, applications to the CAO have dipped slightly on last year, down 0.7pc to 71,151, reflecting a drop in demand from mature and UK students. In some cases, students have registered, but have not yet indicated a preference.
The Government and employers will welcome the strong demand for honours degree (level 8) courses in so-called STEM areas – science, technology, engineering and maths, which will equip students with skills for 'smart economy' jobs.
Nationally, science has had a 4pc rise in applications when compared with 2012, and is up a staggering 70pc since 2008.
The engineering technology sector covers a broad spectrum, with some courses suffering a slump in or stable demand but many in computing are booming.
There is also a return to traditional sectors. Applications for agriculture/horticulture courses more than doubling since 2008 and up 7pc on last year.
Confirmation of the health of the technology and agriculture sectors came recently in CSO figures showing a turnaround in employment for the first time since 2008.
The largest rates of increase were recorded in the agriculture/forestry/fishing sectors – up 12pc – and ICT – up 7pc in the last quarter of 2012.
Once again, UCD attracted the most first preferences for university degrees, with a 1.5pc rise in applications to level 8 courses, to a new record of 8,509.
UCD's common entry for science and engineering are the biggest climbers, with a rise in applications to science of 23pc, while engineering is up 14pc.
Against a bumper increase of 44pc last year, demand for its computer science programme fell slightly but at 198 the number of first preferences is more than three times that of 2009.
At NUI Maynooth, first preferences for its omnibus science degree have increased by 32pc, while applications for psychology through science are up 40pc and physics & astrophysics surged by 80pc.
DCU has seen particular growth in its STEM and business programmes, among its more than 4 000 first preference applications. This was reflected in a massive 120pc increase in demand for physics with biomedical science and 68pc in common entry engineering. DCU's engineering programmes are up 33pc since last year.