Tuesday 22 October 2019

Katherine Donnelly: 'Leaving Cert students showing sure-footedness in study choices'

Skills: Becoming an apprentice is an important career option for many
Skills: Becoming an apprentice is an important career option for many
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Brexit or not, the current crop of sixth-years have shown a certain sure-footedness in their approach to the CAO application form this year. Leaving Cert candidates are not the only ones applying to the CAO, but they are the biggest single cohort.

They are trusting the Government and employers when they promise a continued flow of jobs right across the economy, particularly for those who embrace the science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) disciplines that are the key drivers of future growth.

Against a rise of 2.6pc in applications for "honours" degree programmes generally, universities are reporting increases well ahead of that average for some courses, including many in the Stem area.

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For instance, Dublin City University has experienced a growth in applications of 23pc to its common entry engineering and 13pc to electronic and computer engineering. At Maynooth University, applications for science are up 17pc. At University College Dublin, computing is up 14pc.

There is another figure that also points to a greater sense of clarity that this year's CAO applicants appear to have brought to the process.

Among the 73,034 applicants were 5,351 who did not enter course choices; they didn't have to - all they were required to do for the February 1 deadline was to register with the CAO.

While 5,351 is a considerable number, and 7.3pc of all applicants, it is lower than the figure of 6,084, 8.3pc of all applicants, at the same time last year. So this year, more of them seemed to know what they wanted.

Another notable feature is that, despite an expected 3pc rise in Leaving Certificate candidate numbers in June, there was only a 0.5pc rise in applications for a college place next autumn.

So what are the rest of the class of 2019 planning to do?

Far from representing a turn away from education, the figures probably tell us many have decided to cash in on the renaissance in apprenticeships and follow an earn-and-learn path to a qualification.

Recent statistics from the further education and training authority Solas showed there were more than 5,600 apprenticeship signings last year, many in traditional areas such as construction, but also evidence that new apprenticeship offerings are taking off.

A conventional college education is not for everyone - and drop-out figures in higher education paint a sad picture of students finding themselves on the wrong course, or simply not suited to the purely academic route. It is distressing for them and a waste of taxpayers' money.

It is a healthy education system and economy that can support young people in study and career choices that suit their learning styles and, at the same time, produce a steady flow of graduates from all sorts of education and training programmes - who between them not only have high levels of knowledge, but the skills needed by industries.

Leaving Cert candidates appear to understand the choices well, whether it is pursuing a Stem degree or looking at the growing number of apprenticeship options. Brexit uncertainty aside, it looks like a win-win.

Irish Independent

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