POINTS for science, computing and engineering have soared as a record number of students receive CAO college offers today.
Surging demand combined with the 25 bonus points for higher level maths earned by 11,000 school-leavers drove up the entry requirements for hundreds of programmes.
But to the relief of thousands more, the impact of the bonus was largely concentrated on courses strongly associated with maths.
Points for arts, for instance, are static or down, while points have also dipped for some primary teaching courses.
It is a record year for the CAO, with 49,862 applicants receiving an offer today.
Compared with this time last year, the CAO has issued about 800 more offers for honours degree courses -- in a year when overall applications were slightly down.
The extra offers are a direct consequence of the big bounce to computing and science, which has given colleges enough applicants to fill courses that had previously struggled to attract the right calibre of student.
UCD, for example, opened more places on its engineering degree programme this year to cater for demand -- and even with that the points rose.
School-leavers switched to science and computing in their droves this year -- first preference applications for honours degree (Level 8) science courses, alone, were up by more than 17pc.
It follows a sustained campaign by the Government and employers advising graduates that these were the skills that would equip them for jobs in the so-called "smart economy".
In all, 416 honours degree courses saw a rise in points, predominantly those in science, computing, engineering and anything with the word maths in the title.
Compared with that, points fell for 281 courses, while there was no change in the case of 101 courses.
At level 7/6 (ordinary degree/higher certificate), points rose for 125 courses, dropped for 180, and remained the same for 69.
The 25 bonus points were introduced as a pilot measure under pressure from employers to incentivise students to aim higher in maths.
But their introduction has triggered a controversy over whether they are distorting the points system.
IBEC, the group that represents Irish business, rejects that suggestion and said it was designed to acknowledge the extra workload associated with maths higher level.
IBEC Head of Policy Tony Donohoe said: "We are beginning to attract more high-calibre students into subjects for which we are likely to see a demand from industry into the foreseeable future."
He said the points system had many shortcomings, particularly its impact on education practice at second level, but it was an efficient system for matching demand for college courses to the supply.
"In any given year, students are competing with each other for a fixed number of places. Therefore, it is their performance relative to each other that determines their chance of gaining their preferred choice," he said.
UCD deputy president Professor Mark Rogers said while 17 UCD courses had increased by 25 or more points in round one, many degrees, such as law, business & law, commerce and psychology "showed increases in points more in line with the increase in first preferences".
He said it would take some time and analysis to fully understand the impact of bonus points for higher maths across the range of degrees offered in UCD.
"The addition of this further variable adds more complexity to an already complex interaction between courses across the different universities, available places and student preferences," he said.
NUI Maynooth admissions officer John McGinnity said the rising points in science and computing were a reflection of the increased demands for courses and the bonus points.
"While these may appear as separate, they are, in fact, intertwined."
On the pressure of the points system generally, TCD provost Dr Patrick Prendergast said it raised challenges to equity of access because it was "too narrow a gate through which to admit students".
Journalist: Katherine Donnelly