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More Irish 30-somethings have degrees than anywhere in EU

Ireland is the graduate capital of Europe, with a bigger share of 30-somethings holding a degree than anywhere else in the EU.

Over half of Irish 30- to 34-year-olds now have a third-level qualification, the only EU country to pass the 50pc mark.

Among women, the figure is even higher, with 58pc of Irish females in that age bracket having completed third-level education, compared with 44pc of males.

New figures from Eurostat, track how Ireland's impressive graduate output over the past decade has put it to the top of the leaderboard.

The continuing rise in Ireland's graduation rate has seen it come from behind to pass out countries such as Finland, which have highly rated education systems.

In 2002, when 32pc of Irish 30- to 34-year-olds had a degree, the comparable figure in Finland was 41pc, but in 2012, Finland's 46pc was trailing behind Ireland's 51pc.

Meanwhile, a detailed analysis of this year's CAO applications confirms the shifting trends in the areas of study being undertaken at third-level, as school-leavers and other college hopefuls follow the promise of jobs in hi-tech sectors.

There has been a significant increase in applications to study science, technology and engineering over the past five years, according to the analysis by the Higher Education Authority (HEA).

Technology now accounts for 21pc of all Level 8 (honours degree) courses and within that category, computing has seen a 51pc rise in first-preference applications since 2009.

Trend

In the same period, science has seen a 17pc jump in first preferences, while engineering is up 22pc. The trend is similar at Level 7/6 (ordinary degree/higher certificate) where technology accounts for 34pc of all first- preference applications this year. In the past five years, computing applications have risen by 41pc, while science is up 25pc.

HEA chairman John Hennessy said science and technology were providing, and would provide, major opportunities for Ireland.

"We need to ensure that we continue to grow the number of world-class graduates who not alone can work for tech-and-science-based companies but who will also set up companies of their own as well as contribute to the wider society," he said.

Junior Education Minister Sean Sherlock, who has responsibility for research and innovation, also welcomed the trend and pointed to a shortage of graduates in certain areas.

He said that confirmation that students "are thinking with their feet and moving towards CAO courses in the science, technology, engineering and maths areas will help us to secure further inward investment, which will benefit the whole nation."

However, Oireachtas education committee members yesterday expressed concerns about the level of foreign-language uptake among third-level students in Ireland, despite growing demand from employers for such skills.

Less than one-third of Irish school-leavers takes a foreign language at third level and far fewer graduates opt to pursue careers using their language skills, Department of Education official Breda Naughton told the committee.

Irish Independent