Record demand for postgraduate places

picture of postgraduate diplomaA recent report by Sean Flynn, Education Editor of The Irish Times, noted that demand for postgraduate courses is reaching a record level. Several salient points are worth re-stating here, ahead of the gradireland Summer Fair in the RDS on 15 June, where students and graduates can find out more about their further study options both in Ireland and abroad.

The latest figures, released last September, show that more than 17,000 students have registered an interest in pursuing a postgraduate qualification. The figure was compiled by the Postgraduate Applications Centre (PAC) in Galway, an offshoot of the Central Applications Office. The PAC office handles all postgraduate applications on behalf of the universities, except UCD and the University of Limerick.

More than 30,000 students graduate from Irish universities and institutes of technology each year. With employment prospects still bleak in certain sectors, many are looking to a postgraduate qualification to help unlock the jobs market.

Demand for places now regularly exceeds availability. There are more than 3,000 applicants for the Higher Diploma in Education (HDip) currently awaiting a decision on their application. Many have already spent a number of years in either part-time teaching or taking a masters programme. The Department of Education recently announced that the HDip in Education is to be extended to two years from 2013, which will double the cost of securing this qualification.

But there are also bright spots. One-year conversion courses – in which students take the entire content of a standard three- or four-year undergraduate programme in a single academic year – are a good option, both financially and in terms of up-skilling or re-skilling to adapt to the jobs market. Conversion courses in IT are especially popular, as employers continue to struggle to find suitably qualified graduates in many specialist IT areas.

Apart from employer-driven programmes addressing specific skills shortages, there are many one-year taught masters programmes which can boost job prospects. PhD study is also booming. But funding – even that provided by Science Foundation Ireland for PhD work, biotechnology, ICT and the ‘smart economy’ – is under extreme pressure. Securing a postgraduate qualification is extremely expensive in Ireland, unlike many EU countries. Most qualified postgrads will have accumulated bank debts of at least €10,000 by the time they have finished their studies.

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