Why more and more smart students are staying home from college
Irish third-level colleges have been slow to let their students study over the Internet and off campus, but that may now be changing.
The number of institute of technology students who are aren't physically there increased by 31% last year. Part-time numbers are also rising, as mature workers and the unemployed try to increase their skills.
During the last academic year, 1,452 students were doing courses through distance learning or e-learning.
Just over 500 of these students interact with the institutes almost exclusively over the internet.
They can log on to lectures from anywhere in the world. They can submit questions to lecturers as they happen, and if they miss a lecture they can catch it later.
Online courses are available from the Institutes of Technology in Sligo and Blanchardstown.
Students doing e-learning courses study over 80% of their course materials on the internet.
Those doing distance-learning courses are also off campus for most of the time, but come in for some seminars, and use traditional texts as well as the Internet. Distance-learning courses are available in five ITs.
The ITs are also stepping up their drive to attract students taking part-time and flexible learning courses through the web site Bluebrick.ie. Typically these courses would enable a student to study at an institute while they hold down a job.
BlueBrick.ie offers a convenient online comparison option and course registration for those who are interested in upskilling and gaining further qualifications.
So why are online and distance-learning courses proving particularly popular?
Dr Richard Thorn, Director of Flexible Learning, Institutes of Technology Ireland, says: "Increasingly the Institutes see it as part of their mission to provide these course. They are responding to the market.
"Many of the students might have lost their jobs and see an opportunity to upskill."
Developed by the 14 Institutes of Technology, BlueBrick.ie aims to fill a void that existed for those who were interested in improving their educational qualifications, but were finding it difficult to find time in busy schedules.
"We created BlueBrick.ie to be a one-stop-shop for people in all areas around the country who were interested in moving forward with their career and securing better job prospects," said Dr Richard Thorn.
Although the number of students studying part-time courses at universities has fallen, at ITs the numbers have increased, according to Richard Thorn.
Karl Cleverdon (38) is typical of the new breed of mature worker who saw the recession as an opportunity to increase his skills.
Karl is a self-employed electrician, who saw his business fall off dramatically in the building slump
When he looked for electrician jobs on websites and in the newspapers, he noticed that there were many more jobs for electrical engineers.
"I decided that I needed to increase my qualifications. So I am doing a course in mechatronics [a discipline that includes electronic and mechanical engineering]," he says.
"Once I got over the initial shock of becoming a student I have really enjoyed it."
After failing her Leaving Cert and taking a job in insurance firm, single mother Siobhan Coyle had a dramatic change in career direction when she signed up for a foundation course at Letterkenny Institute of Technology.
The foundation course finished at 1.30pm every day, and is now also available as an evening course.
Siobhan took to the academic life like a duck to water and is now finishing a masters in accountancy in Letterkenny. After qualifying she hopes to use her skills working as a lecturer and consultant, and also would like to work in an accountancy firm.
"I have been a volunteer for a local credit union, so I have been particularly interested in studying how credit unions work," she says.
In 2010 she was chosen to represent Ireland at the CIMA Global Business Challenge, an international competition where business students show off their entrepreneurial talents.
"If you had told me six years ago that I would be studying for a masters, I would not have believed you.
"It has given me an enormous boost in confidence."