College aside, there’s the University of Life



SCHOOL days may well be the best days of your life as 61,000 students, Leaving Cert results to hand this week, are about to find out as they face the reality of repeats or job-hunting or, in the case of 60% of them, the mad scramble for a place in college or university where, now, required course points have risen dramatically, putting their first choice out of reach for most pupils.
If that 60% thought the pressure for points humongous, they ain’t seen nothing yet. The financial burden, alone, on parents and students themselves – €19,000 to €36,000 over four years, and that’s if they’re living at home – is just one pressure point. The need to succeed another. The number of combined Leaving Cert students, the last two rears, taking on higher level subjects increased this year has jumped significantly.
Pushing themselves to that limit, however, comes with a cost, with one in every six, or 6,000, in third-level dropping out in the first year. Dropping out comes at a cost too. Aside from feelings of failure and regret, there is the finances. If a student opts to return to college, their grant entitlement is lost for the year they repeat.
In addition, they may be liable for some or all of the tuition fees for that year, depending on the timing of their withdrawal. Construction, services and computer science have some of the highest drop-out levels. In some courses, as high as 80%.
Colleges, however, say the figures can be misleading. Not all students in third-level courses progress directly from year one to year two in the same course. Some may have changed courses, while others may have deferred or taken a year out.
All of which begs the question: are students who are not academically able, or just not ready, being propelled into higher education? With the aforementioned 60%, Ireland has one of the highest proportions of young people in Europe going on to higher education. In contrast, there has been a dramatic fall-off in the numbers taking up apprenticeships or training, a pattern which coincided with the economic downturn.
Prof. John Hegarty of the Royal Irish Academy says the high student drop-out rates in some courses is because many students are not “suited” to college. Students totally unsuited to higher education are being “shoehorned” into universities by their parents, the “snob value” being higher than apprenticeships and training.
Studies indicate that drop-out rates are down to more complicated issues than just academic ability. Socio-economic background, the type of course students are completing and the type of institute they are attending can all play a role in whether or not a student remains in higher education.
However, Dr Jim Murray, director of academic affairs at the Technological Higher Education Association, rejects any suggestion that they are taking on too many students. He says the expansion in the numbers enrolled in institutes of technology has played an important role in greater numbers of disadvantaged students and students with lower levels of Leaving Cert. attainment accessing higher education. “I wouldn’t like to say to anyone that you shouldn’t go to higher education.” he says.
Agreed. A university education may well be the best legacy a society can bestow on its young but are we allowing many of our young students become victims of an illusion? Of a misplaced idealism of what really matters in life, that a degree guarantees you a job for ever, and loads of money? In short, plain sailing through life?
In a changing world of living with viruses, out-sourcing, au tomation, emerging markets and empty pension funds, nothing is guaranteed any more. Certainly not a job for life. University is not for everyone. As Mark Twain noted: “ I never let schooling interfere with my education.”
I would suggest those unsure of what they’re about to contend with could do worse than take a year out to think things through. Dare I suggest they taking the time out, travelling, exploring the world, making new friends, getting a job at Happy Burger, adapting to grown- up responsibilities.
A year at the university of life.
Alternatively, their innate aptitude may lean towards an apprenticeship. A trade, of which there are growing shortages in this country, can, in the end, pay huge dividends.
Remember the last time you paid a plumber? That is, when you could manage to find one…

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