Almost half of third-level students studying computing don’t finish

14 Feb 2019

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A new report has found that 45pc of students doing computing courses don’t go on to finish them, while men are more likely to drop out than women.

A report published today (14 February) by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) analysed the rates of completion of 34,059 students who entered Irish universities, institutes and colleges full-time at undergraduate level in the 2007-2008 academic year. These students were then tracked over the following decade to see how they performed, revealing a relatively high completion rate of 76pc across the board.

In the Level 8 honours degree category, more than four in every five students completed their studies, with completion rates of 94pc in the colleges followed by universities (83pc) and institutes of technology (74pc). However, one of the most worrying findings from a science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) perspective is that 45pc of computing students dropped out before the end of their courses.

By comparison, the lowest dropout rates were seen among students undertaking education/teaching courses at just 9pc, followed by those in health and welfare areas at 16pc. The findings also showed that of those who dropped out, 63pc decided to do so in their first year.

Another trend seen in the data is that completion rates for women are significantly higher than men, at 81pc versus 71pc respectively. Also, lower completion rates for men are particularly prevalent at Level 6 and Level 7 in institutes of technology at 59pc and 58pc respectively. This, the HEA said, reflects the generally higher performance rates of women in education generally.

Meanwhile, the number of women doing computing and engineering courses remains very low at just 18pc and 15pc respectively.

Speaking of the report, the chief executive of the HEA, Paul O’Toole, said: “The findings are mostly positive but require further consideration to address some of the challenges that the evidence presents. In particular, we need to look at non-completion rates by males in certain areas, and the higher education system is seeking ways to improve the outcomes for those students.”

The Irish Computer Society’s strategy and operations manager, Linda Keane, responded to the report’s findings, saying they were an indication that a more basic understanding of what computing subjects are, is needed both by parents and students.

“Computer science provides truly excellent career opportunities with many jobs available, but parents and pupils need to consider computer science with eyes wide open in advance,” she said.

“[These] students have highly advanced digital lifestyle skills and are voracious consumers of technology; however, it’s also very important that this should extend into an appreciation of digital workplace skills as an underpinning enabler of life and living in Ireland today.”

Updated, 2.53pm, 14 February 2019: This article has been updated to include comments from the the Irish Computer Society.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic