Wednesday 17 January 2018

Smart economy blow as students turn off science

John Walshe Education Editor

FEWER students are taking science courses in college this year, despite a massive campaign by the Government to increase enrolments in the area to help build the 'smart economy'.

After a massive 25pc rise in science numbers last year, new figures show a decline this year.

The figures -- coming in the middle of National Science Week -- are a blow to the Government's hopes for a future smart economy.

The statistics, obtained by the Irish Independent, show that the number of first-year students accepting offers of places on science courses has dropped from 4,773 last year to 4,645 this year.

They also show disappointing results for engineering and computing skills, despite the fact there is a serious shortage of graduates in these areas, which are key to the development of the economy.

The numbers accepting places on engineering courses have risen by only three students to 3,680, while the number of first years in computing has increased by only 31 to 2,687, still way below the 4,097 who accepted places on computing courses in 2000.

Computing numbers plummeted after the bubble burst nearly a decade ago and have still not recovered.


The figures were described as a setback by employers' body IBEC, which said many students were too preoccupied with the professions and should consider the sciences.

"The drop of 512 in the numbers accepting places on construction is understandable, but it is disappointing that these students -- who presumably have good maths -- have not taken up courses in engineering, science or computing instead," said Tony Donohue, director of education policy.

"It takes time to change attitudes and behaviour," said Mr Donohue, who added that the message needed to be gotten across to students in their second year of post-primary schooling.

The Government has pumped millions into a campaign over the past few years to draw attention to the needs of a smart economy and to encourage more students to take science, technology, engineering and maths courses.

Ministers and the state agency Discover Science and Engineering have been emphasising the benefits of studying these subjects.

Ten years ago the percentage share of students accepting places on technology courses was 39.1pc -- last year it was 29.6pc and this year it fell to 28.3pc.

The figures, compiled from CAO data by Dr Vivienne Patterson from the Higher Education Authority, show the number of applicants accepting offers for all courses in colleges has risen from 37,467 in 2000 to 45,582 last year and to 45,598 this year. A quarter of all places are in the arts and humanities areas.

Irish Independent

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