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Hi-tech jobs boost after U-turn on maths bonus

ALMOST 200 hi-tech jobs were announced yesterday as the Government signalled a major new incentive for students to pursue careers in the IT sector.

New Education and Skills Minister Mary Coughlan has backed a bonus-point system for higher Leaving Certificate maths in a significant U-turn in government policy.

Her announcement came as five leading multinational companies confirmed 175 job vacancies in the technology sector.

And a nanoscience research institute, CRANN, which is based at Trinity College Dublin and University College Cork, separately announced that it is to create 17 new research and development jobs after it was awarded €15.5m in non-Exchequer funding.

The poor uptake in higher-level maths is regarded as a major obstacle to producing enough qualified graduates to develop the 'smart economy'.

Skills developed in higher-level maths are essential for careers in science, engineering and technology on which future economic growth is pinned.

But many Leaving Certificate students opt out at higher level because of the time and effort involved, switching instead to other subjects in which points come easier.

The Irish Independent has learned that a report on maths will be finalised this week. It is being written by a working group comprising the Irish Universities Association, Forfas -- the national advisory body for enterprise and science -- and the departments of Education and Enterprise.

But addressing the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) annual conference in Co Clare yesterday, Ms Coughlan jumped the gun on the report and gave her backing to a bonus-point system aimed at encouraging more students to take up higher-level maths.

"While I will await and consider the views of the expert group," she said, "it is my view at this point that we could send a clear signal to our second-level student population with the introduction of a CAO points bonus for achievement in Leaving Certificate maths.


"Ireland, to succeed in our ambition as the innovation island, must not be shy in targeting any skills gap we identify in our labour force.

"It is clear that maths is somewhere we could do better, so it is important that we embrace that challenge and take steps to right the situation."

The minister's support for bonus points was welcomed by the employers' group representing the hi-tech sector. However, it drew opposition from some education representatives.

"The reintroduction of bonus points will send a clear signal to national and international industry leaders that Ireland is serious about developing a smart economy," said ICT Ireland director Paul Sweetman.

"Bonus points will encourage more students to take the course."

The Labour Party also welcomed the move, saying it was long overdue. Its education spokesman, Ruairi Quinn, said: "All proposals that might help improve our performance should be considered."

However, the TUI's education and research officer, Bernie Judge, expressed concern.

She added: "A similar measure in the past failed to result in a significant increase in student uptake of the subject."

The president of NUI Galway, Professor Jim Browne, said bonus points were not the "silver bullet" they appeared to be.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, he asked: "Will they just be for science, maths and engineering courses or for entry to all courses, even those without a maths component?"

Ned Costello, chief executive of the Irish Universities Association, said if the universities agreed to bonus points the earliest they could be introduced would be 2010.

The Government's change of policy came as a group of five leading multinational companies yesterday confirmed the availability of 175 job vacancies at East Point Office Park in Dublin. The companies -- Oracle, Conduit, Citrix, Quintiles and Peninsula -- are targeting professionals for roles in sales, finance, business development and technical support.

East Point Office Park will host a jobs fair on Friday, April 16, for companies based at the established docklands office park beside Dublin city centre.

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