The dust has fallen on the first round of the CAO offers, and one thing has become clear: the continued exponential rise in interest for STEM courses seems to have ebbed away for the most part. Although the points for science courses haven’t taken as drastic as hit as the arts (Music in Trinity is down a staggering 54 points), the truth is that — for the first time in a number of years — the huge demand for STEM courses has finally slowed down.
In particular, many Computer Science courses have incurred a significant loss of points. So, why are Irish students becoming less enthusiastic about technology when more and more emphasis is being put on it through initiatives such as the Young Scientist Exhibition and the EUCYS?
Stifling Rental Market
The reality of the situation is that the majority of Irish universities are located in the greater Dublin area. DCU and UCD have something of an educational hegemony, offering the most popular computer science courses. Of course, Dublin’s dwindling housing stock is utterly incapable of sustaining this increased interest in Dublin universities. The situation is truly dire; nightmare stories about students commuting 3+ hours abound. You know the situation is awful when the Irish Times writes headlines like “Priced out of Greystones? Wicklow town could be the place for you!”.
It’s important to recognize that a university degree isn’t the only pathway to employment. In the case of Computer Science specifically, many great alternatives exist. There are plenty of people wholly more pragmatic than myself who are cutting out the fluff of a four-year degree and are quickly equipping themselves with the skills they need to succeed. Notably, the development of programming certificates for specific languages has allowed students to obtain a much more focused skill set.
Online certificates are both practical and credible in the eyes of prospective employers. For savvy students, these certificates can be utilized as a cost-effective alternative to academic study. And let’s be honest: with the incredible pace of change in the tech industry, is it really that surprising that students would move away from a traditional four-year degree? Microsoft and Amazon both offer a multitude of great tech-related certifications. Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) certification is the entry-level certification for those with little to no programming skills. Following that, there’s the Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) certification and Amazon Web Services (AWS) certification as well.
Even though the points for most STEM courses have either stabilised or dwindled, many engineering courses have seen a considerable rise. The relative growth of engineering and construction courses is most likely due in no small part to Ireland’s economic growth in recent years. Additionally, many students are introduced to the subject of Engineering at a younger age (it is a Leaving Certificate subject, after all).
This could also explain the poor performance of Computer Science degrees. Unlike most branches of science, Computer Science historically has not been adequately represented on the secondary curriculum. However, this is all set to change next year when Computer Science will be added to the Leaving Cert syllabus. This could certainly result in a larger uptake in the subject at third level.
Onwards and upwards?
Trying to predict CAO points is a hugely speculative game. The fact that interest in STEM courses is dwindling may seem unsettling at first. But we must be cognisant that a Level 8 degree is not the final say in employability — nor should it be. We’re fortunate to be living in an age where anybody can learn anything online. If the only consequence of this is a mild decline in CAO points, then we certainly ought to celebrate.