Science research

CAO points a mixed bag for STEM

Image: Stockfresh

21 August 2017

Niall Kitson portraitThe first round of CAO offers are a valuable inght into how young people see science, technology, engineering and mathematics as career options. The numbers sitting STEM subjects at higher level increased by 5% over 2016 but a more powerful indicator than the simple number of students sitting papers and scoring well on them is how many follow up at third level.

A better place to start would be the percentage of students who were offered their first choice pick. Roughly half of Level 8 course applicants received their first choice while 86% of Level 6 and 7 applicants were similarly successful. Consider this a quick win for the new marking system.

On top of better grades, the points race is a less frantic effort this year. An outlier here is science, where final round 2016 and first round 2017 offers are largely unchanged.

In contrast, engineering has seen general courses decline by as much as 45 points but some specialised courses in mechanical, electrical and energy have gone up by 30 points.

Reaction from the STEM lobby has been a mix of concern and resolve to do better. Engineers Ireland Registrar Damien Owens talked up role of apprenticeships as an alternative to third level education, noting Apprenticeships and further skills-based training, in addition to the traditional third level path, offer a real opportunity to develop professional and technical skills which are valued by employers and are now so badly needed in industry.

“There were over 8,000 engineering apprenticeships in 2006 but numbers have dropped by as much as 75% in recent years,” he said. “There is a growing number of these opportunities now on offer so it is vital that the Government and the Apprenticeship Council continue to follow through on the commitment to rejuvenate this area and double the number of apprenticeships nationally by 2020.”

We’re well used to hearing about the Digital Divide and the famous 5,000 tech jobs going unfilled in Dublin alone and Owens’ statement has a similar urgency, meaning it’s a good time to get into the field.

Of course it’s not all about what happens in the senior cycle. Fostering an interest in the STEM subjects requires a long-term strategy.

Mari Cahalane, head of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, said: “We need to foster an early interest in STEM. Here parents and teachers can play an important role in encouraging young students to take a greater interest in science and engineering subjects.”

The short version for 2017? It’s harder to fail, entry points are down, STEM generally holding fast. What any of this means won’tbe clear until the new system goes into its second year and we have something against which to make a genuine comparison.

Read More:

Back to Top ↑