The Central Applications Office (CAO) has reported a 5% decrease in 2018 in the number of students applying to third level courses in Ireland through the CAO.
The decrease in third level applications has been linked to increasing employment opportunities in Ireland. The unemployment rate in Ireland has fallen from 7% to 6% over the last twelve months, marking the lowest rate of unemployment in Ireland since May of 2008.
Vice Provost Prof. Christ Morash explained that “when employment rises, applications to third level drop as more students go directly into work. So, from one perspective, the figures are the barometer of a healthy economy.”
The number of CAO applications from mature students – those aged over 23 years – is 12% lower than 2017. Students applying through Higher Education Access Route (HEAR), which provides reduced-points access routes for applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds, is down by 9%.
Lewis Purser, Director of the Irish Universities Association (IUA), highlighted the 7% reduction in CAO applications among young male students compared to a 3% decrease in applications from female students. Purser expressed concern that an increase of unskilled workers entering the labour market could have “worrying longer-term implications”.
A drop has also been observed in the number of applicants from Northern Ireland and the UK, which has been attributed to uncertainty surrounding the future of students following Brexit.
Another explanation put forward for the overall decrease in CAO applications has been the expansion of more affordable further education options, such as apprenticeships.
Forestry (-37%), physical sciences (-36%), and journalism (-26%) have experienced the highest level of decreases in applications. Points required in the Leaving Certificate for these courses are expected to decrease as a result of less competition for places.
Demand for Biology (10%), Engineering (6%), and Education (4%) have increased. The increase in applications for both primary teaching (8%) and secondary teaching (4%) have been welcomed due to what trade unions have called a “crisis” in teacher supply.
Minister for Education Richard Bruton commented that teaching remains a “very attractive career option.”
University College Dublin announced that had the highest share among Irish universities of first preferences for Level 8 degrees (13.7%), while Maynooth University also cited a growth in its share of first preferences applications.