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Urgent need to tackle college dropout rate

11 February 2016

Engineers Ireland, the professional body representing more than 23,000 engineers across every discipline of the sector, has urged policy-makers to tackle the high dropout rate in engineering-related programmes at third level.

Caroline Spillane, Engineers Ireland’s director general, said Ireland needed more students taking science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) programmes in college to future-proof economic growth and meet the skills demand.

She described as 'worrying' the high dropout rate, especially for engineering-related programmes, and urged the political parties campaigning for election to make better college retention rates a centrepiece of their manifestos.

Engineers Ireland’s call comes as new figures from the Higher Education Authority (HEA) show high third-level dropout rates in maths-related courses like engineering (excluding civil) and computer science of 23% and 25% respectively - above the national average of 16%.

“Colleges are reporting significant concern about students’ ability in maths. Although the reintroduction of bonus points for higher-level maths has boosted take-up for the subject, it is clear that there is a mismatch between what students learn in school and their college experience. It is vital that we have the engineers of the future applying for courses this year.”

“It is welcome that more students are choosing STEM-related college programmes since these skills will be needed to meet demand across an increasingly diverse engineering sector. But there is evidence that college-goers are not sufficiently conditioned to the curricular adjustment they need to make between the two levels of our education system,” said Ms Spillane.

Engineers Ireland is concerned that policy-makers are not moving fast enough to smooth the transition between second level and higher education.

“We are concerned that many students reach college without an informed expectation of the content of programmes. This is, in part, because curricula between second and third level are so different, and career guidance and information sharing is chronically under-resourced in schools.”

Engineers Ireland supports the Government’s recent moves to tackle predictability in the Leaving Certificate exam, and to reduce the number of grading bands and undergraduate programme offerings in colleges.

“We also need to review the way in which we educate our third-level STEM students and adopt practices more suitable for today’s students and their learning environments. Higher Education Institutes (HEI) have suffered major funding cuts in recent years which have impacted their ability to introduce more modern teaching methods,” said Ms Spillane. 

 
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