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CAO: Big surge in applications for health-related professions


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CAO applications have held up this year, with a big rise in interest in medicine and other health-related professions, in what may be a direct effect of the coronavirus.

Demand for medicine is up 6pc, while other health-related professions have seen double digit percentage increases compared to this time last year.

Other professions that have seen a surge in applications include law and architecture.

Final figures for college entry in September show a total of 77,831 applications, up from 77,415 this time last year.

The increase overall is 0.5pc but for honours degree (Level 8) courses the rise is higher than average at 1.1pc, while the Level 7/6 courses (ordinary degree /higher certificate) are down 2pc

Despite all the uncertainty wrought by the pandemic, students also displayed a hearty appetite for using the Change of Mind process to refine their course choices.

The latest data is based on the final course choices, following the Change of Mind period that ended on July 1 with 44,347 applicants varying their lists.

A rise for medicine and other traditionally high points courses may also reflect optimism on the part of Leaving Cert students and a belief that the calculated grades process will favour them.

Because of coronavirus, traditional exams were replaced by a system where teachers provided an estimated grade and all the results are now going through a national standardisation process in the Department of Education.

One of the biggest increases in interest this year was for law, up 16pc on July 2019 with 18,884 first preferences, from 16,187 last year.

While demand for nursing is flat it is up 1pc this year, in line with the general increase in applications for honours degree courses but other health-related disciplines have shown a steep rise. Physiotherapy is up 25pc, veterinary medicine is up 16pc and dentistry is up 17pc.

Biological and related sciences courses are up 5pc and courses grouped under the heading environment are up 8pc

Demand for primary teaching is static, reflecting students’ awareness that pupils numbers have peaked in that sector, while courses leading to jobs in second-level schools are up 7pc.

With CAO applicants showing a significant attachment to traditional professions, arts is one of the casualties with a 7pc fall off in interest.

Overall applications for business are unchanged, but some colleges have seen a huge surge, including Maynooth University where demand is up 21pc.

Maynooth has recorded its higher ever number of CAO applications year and other noteworthy upwards trends include Psychology (20pc), Law (9pc) and Biological & Biomedical Sciences (5pc).

Maynooth University President Professor Philip Nolan said they planned to admit in excess of 3,000 students in the coming year.

UCD said its first preferences broke through the 9,000 mark with an increase of almost 600 (7.9%) from this time last year.

Student interest in the healthcare professions is up year-on-year across each of the disciplines, medicine, nursing, radiography and physiotherapy.

UCD Deputy President and Registrar Professor Mark Rogers said “undoubtedly, the focus on these professions in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis is a significant contributory factor.”

UCD has also seen an upsurge in first preferences in Commerce, Law, Psychology, Veterinary Medicine and Computer Science.

Professor Rogers said 2020 would be recorded as “a remarkable year as school leavers grappled with the disruption to their studies, the cancellation of the Leaving Certificate here in Ireland and of final State examinations in many countries, the adjustment of university application processes to take account of calculated grades and the uncertainty around how college life will be structured under prevailing public health restrictions dealing with COVID-19.”

Online Editors