On course for college?

WHEN it comes to choosing a college course, it appears that mammy, may well, know best.

Speaking at The Future of Work summit in Dublin Castle in January, Dr Vivienne Patterson Head of Skills at the Higher Education Authority (HEA) said that mothers play a key role in their children’s education and career choices.

All of students’ decisions are made on the basis, more or less, on what their mother tells them. That came out quite recently in our review of career guidance. It is overwhelmingly the mother, for some reason not the father

With a wide variety of third level courses on offer, pressure to secure high Leaving Cert points for in-demand places and the high financial cost of going to college, it is a decision that few students feel equipped to make on their own – nor are their parents inclined to let them.

So what course should your child pick and should college be the only option that they consider? Though experts predict the strongest growth in employment will be for graduates of higher education courses, there are other shortages across the labour force, for instance skilled tradespeople, leading to a renewed interest in apprenticeships.

Ireland has higher than average numbers of students progressing to third level. In 2005, 29% of 25 to 64-year-olds had a third level qualification. Results released by the CSO for 2018 showed that this figure has risen to 47%, with more than half of 25 to 34 and 35 to 44-year-olds having a third level qualification (56% and 54%).

A total of 77,171 applications were made to the CAO last year, with 84% of Leaving Certificate students seeking a place in 45 Higher Education institutions. First preference applications were up for courses in Education (8%), Biological and Related Sciences (10%) and Engineering 6%. Applications were down for ICT courses (11%), Journalism (27%) and languages (9%).

Graduates are significantly less likely to be unemployed than those with lower levels of education, according to CSO figures. The unemployment rate in 2018 for people aged 15 to 64 was 3.5% for those with Level 8 degrees or higher, compared to 6.8% for those whose highest level of education was the Leaving Certificate.

Jobs for the future

The World Economic Forum suggests that up to 65% of today’s primary school children will work in jobs that don’t yet exist. Technology, urbanisation, globalisation and issues around sustainability are among the forces that are ever more rapidly changing how we live and work in the 21st century. It is no longer possible to predict with any degree of certainty what the jobs of the future are likely to be.

What is certain is that the idea of a job for life, without some form of upskilling or re-training is gone for most school leavers, regardless of what career path they follow. Adaptability, critical thinking, the ability to acquire new knowledge on an on-going basis, and being able to work with others will be as essential for the 21st century workplace as technical ability.

Employers are increasingly hiring graduates from across a variety of disciplines whose qualification demonstrates that they have those key skills. When weighing up course and career choices, students and their parents are advised to consider areas of strength and genuine interest rather than focusing solely on the amount of points they expect to get in their Leaving Cert, or where they think the jobs might be.

Speaking at the Future of Work summit, John Van Reenen, Professor of Management at MIT said that over the past 40 years, US data has shown a growth rate in both low and high-skill jobs, while demand for medium-skill levels has decreased. In recent years, the occupations with the highest growth rate combine both technical and interpersonal skills such as teaching, healthcare and management.

Irish graduates in Education, Health and Welfare, ICT and Engineering had the highest employment outcomes, according to the Graduate Outcomes Survey: Class of 2017 report, published by the HEA earlier this month. Overall, 90% of the Class of 2017 found employment in Ireland, with 93% of teachers either working or about the start a job, within nine months of graduation. Most Health and Welfare (87%), ICT (82%) and Engineering (82%) graduates had found a job. Fewer Arts and Humanities graduates were working (63%) but were among the highest percentages in further study (24%).

      • A total of 78% of 2017 graduates were working or due to start work, while a further 14% were continuing in education.
      • 73% of graduates of Level 6 and 7 programmes continued to higher levels of study after their initial course.     
      • Graduates in the Education, (€38,710), Engineering (€36,817) and ICT (€36,135) had the highest reported average salaries, within nine months of leaving college.

And will they stay the course?

Four out of five students in Irish universities complete their degrees, according to new figures published by the HEA. The study tracked 34,059 students, who entered Irish universities, colleges and institutes of technology as fulltime undergraduates in the 2007/8 academic year, over a decade. According to the HEA, research internationally has found that once a student progresses to their second year, they are more likely to complete their college course. Key findings of this report included:

      • At Level 8 Honours Degree level, completion rates were:
          • (94%) Colleges (Colleges of Education and NCAD);
          • (83%) Universities
          • (74%) Institutes of Technology.
      • On Level 7 and 6 programmes, three out of five students (62%) completed their course.
      • Students on Education/Teaching courses were the most likely to complete their course (91%), followed by Health & Welfare (84%). Computing had the lowest completion rate (55%).
      • More females (81%) than males (71%) completed their course.
      • In general, the higher the Leaving Cert points attained, the more likely a student was to complete their chosen course.
      • Students leaving during the first year of college accounted for 63% of non-completion.

An earlier report (May 2018)   on undergraduates who started college in 2014 also found that Leaving Cert results, the NFQ level of the course and gender  influence progression rates.

The typical profile of the student most likely not to progress beyond first year was identified by this report as: male, with low points, studying Level 6 or Level 7 Computer Science, Construction or Engineering at an institute of technology.

The typical profile of the student most likely to progress was: relatively high points on entry, female, studying NFQ level 8 Education or Healthcare in a university or college.

This report found that 86% of the 32,010 first year undergraduate new entrants in 2014/15 progressed to their second year. In all, 64% of first year students accepted a university place, while a further 29% went to institutes of technology and 7% to colleges.

The amount of students who did not continue beyond first year was higher at Level 6 (27%) and Level 7 (25%). The non-progression rate for Level 8 courses was 15% in institutes of technology, where 49% of students had enrolled for a Level 8 qualification. Non-progression rates at Level 8 were 10% in universities and 8% in colleges.

These findings suggest a link between Leaving Certificate points and successful progression beyond first year in college. Students on Level 8 courses at universities and colleges got 450-500 points, on average, while Level 8 students in institutes of technology got between 355 and 400 points.

      • Medicine had the lowest non-progression rate (2%) which is similar to previous years; Architecture had the highest (20%).
      • At Level 8, there were higher than average (10%) non-progression rates in two university disciplines: Computer Science and Social Science, Business, Law & Arts (11%).
      • In institutes of technology, Level 8 courses in Computer Science had the highest non-progression rate (22%).
      • Together with Computer Science, Construction had the highest  non-progression at Level 7 (32%).

When interpreting the findings, there are other factors including the amount of students enrolled on each course which must be considered. For example, Healthcare courses had a 13% non-progression rate in colleges but this equated to 43 out of 336 students, in 2014/15, whereas 194 Healthcare students in universities did not continue to second year out of a total intake of 2,876 .

In his Foreword to the report, then HEA Chief Executive Dr Graham Love, said that non-progression should not always be regarded negatively.

A student not progressing is not always a negative experience if the student is not suited to their original course choice. To make an early decision to leave and take up a more suitable course can have a major impact on the future academic and work career of a student. The National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 emphasises the importance of a positive first year experience to achieving the goals of higher education. Strong guidance pre-entry and early intervention post-entry are vital to the improvement of progression rates

Where do students go to college?

In 2018, 5,842 students from 81 schools in Cork city and county sat their Leaving Certificate.  Almost a third (26) of Co Cork schools had progression rates of 90% or higher to CAO courses and 85% (69) had progression rate of 65% or higher according to The Irish Times Feeder Schools Tables 2018. The newspaper publishes data on the progression of students to third level in almost 700 schools across Ireland annually.

However, only 78% of this data relates to students who sat their Leaving Cert in 2018. The figures include the total number of past pupils who have accepted a first year place in 2018, including the students who have progressed to college from a PLC course, those who have opted to change courses and mature students, which is why some schools have a progression rate greater than 100%. The figures do not include the students who apply to PLC courses, or the growing number choosing to study abroad.

Of the 4,794 Cork students that accepted one of 48,000 CAO places offered in 2018, 2,118 (44%) went to UCC and 1,573 (33%) went to CIT. In general, the feeder tables show that students tend to choose courses closer to home. Almost two thirds of UCC’s graduate intake is from Cork city and county and less than 10% comes from outside of Munster. Not surprisingly, a higher proportion of students from schools in North Cork accepted courses in UL.

The reasons behind why some schools do better than others are more complex. While many non-fee paying schools are sending most of their students on to third level, a much lower proportion of students from DEIS schools go to university. And many parents are investing heavily in grinds and other extra-curricular learning activities, less accessible to families with lower disposable incomes.

Other issues include the high cost and scarcity of accommodation and further research might answer such questions as how families and students are funding the cost of education, whether a smaller proportion of student grant holders are attending university than in previous decades, if a higher proportion of students are commuting to college rather renting student accommodation and to what extent, if any, this is constraining their course choices?

Data on each of the 81 schools in Co Cork can be viewed by clicking the icons on the interactive map below. A more detailed analysis of feeder schools since 2007 by the Irish Times is available here.

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