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Educational News - College not always the best stepping stone on career path

Date Uploaded: 05/02/2016

The CAO applications closed this week, but despite all the anxiety and last-minute nerves I don't believe university is for everybody.


Not that you'd realise that with government after government trying to ensure we all become undergrads.


Each year we press ahead with unrealistic targets of getting every school-leaver into higher education.


The numbers of people applying to study at third level are set to reach a record high this year based on the volume of individuals who have registered with the CAO.


CAO Applications and Drop Out Rates


The latest available figures show there were 76,227 applications at the close of the CAO's normal application deadline on Monday evening. That's up from 71,151 in 2013.


The Higher Education System Performance report published last year found that 50pc of 30 to 34-year-olds now have third level qualifications, the highest level in Europe.


Time to smugly give ourselves a collective pat on the back? Not really. Just consider how many of these graduates are now working in jobs that they might just as easily have done through some on-the-job training.


Graduate with a primary degree nowadays and you might jump a few places up the queue but who is to say you might not have gone just as far with your Leaving Cert? Still governments spend more money trying to keep us at university, quite a considerable expense when you consider that lots of us don't even complete our degrees.


According to the latest Higher Education Authority figures the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) and the University of Limerick have 13pc of students failing to progress to second year, while Dublin City University and University College Dublin had rates of 12 and 11pc. Trinity is at 7pc. Some 16pc of students in institutes of technology fail to progress, while it is as high as 28pc for those studying Fetac's Level 6 and Level 7 courses.


For most young people, university is just a given. While we do go to learn, we also go to drink cheap beer and get off with each other. And there's nothing wrong with that. But neither is there anything wrong with choosing life and a job over education.


You see the minute you step onto a university campus you will encounter all kinds of students with all kinds of ambitions.


You will find many people who have been writing their theses on something pseudo-profound for years. The notion as to whether or not this qualifies them for an internship may not be central to their thinking.


I wrote my dissertation about Dracula as a xenophobe's paranoid fantasies about miscegenation, but nobody has ever even asked me about it.


That doesn't just include would-be employers, but also, unsurprisingly, my family and friends.


My own third level experience was a pleasant freebie: four years idled away in Trinity's Lecky library reading Penguin classics. But I could equally have done that in my spare time and equipped myself with practical skills in the workplace instead. There should be more ways that we can learn and earn at the same time.


Our third level dreams aren't working out as we imagined and we're hurting the taxpayer, too, hitting her with the cost of the course as well as reducing the number of people in work, paying tax.


The answer is obvious. We need to acknowledge that our education leap forward isn't working out as well as we imagined.


We need to look at what our economy actually needs, stop misleading thousands of students every year and start thinking prudently like in Germany, where employers provide apprentices with three years of training towards a nationally recognised vocational diploma. The apprentices spend three to four days a week in workplace-based training and the rest of the time at a further education college. They also get a small salary.


In Ireland you mostly go to college for the joy of learning, not necessarily for the CV boost. You could also just get a job.


Journalist: Lorraine Courtney