Saturday 24 March 2018

Points race sparks top students brain drain

John Walshe Education Editor

INTENSE competition for leading college courses has led to a "brain drain" which is driving a high proportion of students abroad.

As many as one in 10 students is leaving to pursue a college career in Britain, new figures obtained by the Irish Independent reveal. They show large numbers are enrolling in high-point and professional courses in Britain such as medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, journalism, architecture, civil engineering, primary teaching and sports science because they cannot get places here.

The figures last night prompted a strong warning from the country's biggest university that under-investment in universities would lead to a new wave of emigrant talent.

And the Higher Education Authority (HEA) confirmed it was "monitoring" the figures to see where the demand was from Irish students.

There are now about 16,000 Irish undergraduates and postgraduates enrolled in Britain -- up 3,000 on the numbers recorded five years ago.

This is in spite of the introduction of tuition fees in Britain and the expansion of college places in Ireland, which now caters for 140,000 full-time students.Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe last night indicated he was not unduly worried by the numbers.

However, an analysis of the numbers of Irish students moving to Britain to study shows Ireland is losing many its best students because of a lack of places in colleges here. The figures reveal:

l The numbers studying medicine in the UK jumped from 214 to 523

l the numbers studying teacher training (mainly primary) rose by 50pc

l the numbers taking psychology increased from 470 to 602

l the numbers taking civil engineering and sports science has practically doubled

l half the Irish students in UK are taking postgraduate courses

Labour's education spokesman Ruairi Quinn last night called for an urgent review by the HEA of the reasons why so many were going to the UK and were willing to pay the extra cost.

He also criticised government cuts in spending on undergraduate education at a time when it was investing so much in research.

"It's like starving a child and then expecting that child to grow into an Olympian athlete," he told the Irish Independent.

The Government is aiming to double the number of graduates, currently fewer than 5,000, taking doctorates in Irish colleges and universities. But the latest figures show there are now 1,180 Irish graduates undertaking doctorates in the UK.

A spokesperson for University College Dublin last night said the "leaking" of so many of our top students at postgraduate level would do serious long-term damage to both the economy and society.

UCD president Dr Hugh Brady has already warned of growing competition with UK institutions that are recruiting Irish students.

However, Irish universities have been ordered to cut back on their advertising by 50pc, which will make it more difficult to get their message across to potential students.

Responding to the figures, a spokesman for the minister last night pointed out that the number of people applying to third-level colleges in Ireland has reached an all-time high.

He said "a small number of students" will always choose to study abroad "for a variety of reasons", but argued Ireland's third-level institutions continue to attract the overwhelming majority of students wishing to further their education after the Leaving Certificate.


"Figures from the Central Applications Office show that just over 68,000 applications were made this year," the spokesman said. "The variety of courses and number of places in our third-level institutions are also at record levels."

Education sources said last night that the figures contained a number of surprises.

For instance, nursing in the UK is still attracting huge interest. Nursing is available in degree courses in Irish institutions but the points have been too high for many applicants. However, the lack of new nursing posts has seen a decline in applications this year.

The numbers seeking entry to teacher training came as little surprise, given the expectation that there will be thousands of additional jobs in primary schools over the next few years.

In addition to the 950 teacher trainees, there are more than 500 others involved in academic studies in education or pursuing educational research.

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