Posted tagged ‘construction’

Higher education trending: what do students want to study and why?

May 21, 2013

Last month the Irish Higher Education Authority (HEA) published an analysis of the last five years of student applications to the country’s universities and institutes of technology. This revealed some interesting trends. Unsurprisingly, student interest in construction-related courses (including architecture, surveying, civil engineering and planning) has, in the wake of the near-collapse of the Irish construction industry, waned significantly. Over the five-year period to 2013 first preference applications declined by 55.3 per cent. Given that some of the academic departments affected had, only six or so years ago, been dashing for growth during the boom, this has created major problems in some institutions that had seriously over-invested in this field.

No other subject area has suffered anything quite as dramatic over the period, but other big losers were business and law, together suffering a decline in applicants of nearly 13 per cent over the same period. Interestingly some of the main growth areas have been computing, engineering and science. The re-emergence of computing as a popular choice for students – applications have grown by over 50 per cent in five years – is remarkable, given that for much of the past decade students (and their parents, teachers and guidance counsellors) were concluding that this was an industry in decline and to be avoided. But the emergence of some key companies as economic powerhouses – Apple and Google spring to mind – changed all that.

What does all of this tell us? Mainly that today’s news about economic and industrial developments determines a good many student choices. However the rationale behind these choices is pretty questionable. By the time these students enter the labour market the developments that caused the economic trends have long passed, and some other events will create different effects. Students who entered universities to study civil engineering in 2006 when construction was booming entered the labour market four years or so later when it had imploded. People who wouldn’t touch computing in the same year because they were convinced that the dot.com collapse earlier in the decade had destroyed the industry will have noticed that when they were ready for their first jobs the IT sector was one of the few to be growing aggressively.

We also know from British studies that students are looking more closely at the economic career benefits of particular disciplines before choosing their courses. That of course is a doubtful practice if those benefits cannot be securely predicted over a period of time, or if such predictions are based on palpably wrong assumptions. So how should such choices be made? There is no perfect answer, but one that is as good as any other is to choose according to talent and interest. If you feel passionate or engaged or stimulated about something, then that’s very likely a good subject to study. But don’t assume that today’s newspaper headlines are of any relevance to the success of a particular career to be begun four or five years from now. They aren’t.

The road back to an exporting economy

March 28, 2009

The trajectory that led us to the particular circumstances we are now experiencing was becoming evident to some observers by the middle of this decade. It is interesting to quote what was said in the 2006 Annual Report of Ireland’s National Competitiveness Council:

‘While the economy has continued to grow strongly in the first half of this decade, the underlying impetus to this expansion shifted from the broadly-based, and export-led, growth of the late 1990s to a growth pattern that by 2005-06 had become entirely dependent on domestic consumption and investment.’

Of course other countries are experiencing the current recession also, as it is a global phenomenon; but Ireland’s position has been particularly stark. The problem for us is that we have developed a standard of living and a cost base that cannot be sustained on the back of domestic consumption only, as our economy is far too small for that. That fact was obscured for a short while by the abnormal volume of construction, but it was bound to become apparent to us sooner or later as demand for such levels of construction fell. So now we either need to scale back our expectations and living standards quite substantially, or we need to start selling our goods and services again in international markets. But here the problem is that what we were selling 10 years ago is now being sold at much lower prices by others; we are no longer competitive in those areas. So we need to start selling something new.

The goods and services we should now be exporting need to be much higher-value, and need to be innovation and knowledge-driven. We need to be offering new processes, new product design, new intellectual property to others who will then do the basic production. In short, if we are to become an exporting nation again we need to to support and develop the knowledge society.

The government has been right to support and fund high value research. We now need to make sure that this is being conducted in institutions whose overall funding base ensures sustainability.  This is the only realistic way out of the recession and back to prosperity for Ireland.

My life on the M50

August 26, 2008

I share an experience with just about every other Dubliner, and with the many visitors to the capital – the experience of driving, stopping, cursing, palpitating, shivering, fainting and just giving up on the M50. I remember when the first stretch of the M50 North of the Westlink bridge was opened, going only as far as Blanchardstown. The next phases were under construction, and as I crossed over one such building site once in a taxi on the way to Dublin airport, the driver remarked that ‘it would be nice if they weren’t just working on this in their spare time’.

A few years later the M50 was open all the way to Dublin airport, and for a brief moment, it seemed wonderfully easy to drive from West Dublin to catch a flight. And then it all went sour. The four-lane highway (two lanes on each side) was completely unable to handle the volume of traffic. Try to drive there at any time outside of Sunday night and you were likely to be in a queue. If any accident happened, or if there was any trouble at the toll plaza, or for no reason whatsoever, the traffic built up and stopped.

And now we are back at the construction phase, and the uncertainties of barrier free tolling, the latter being as mysterious as anything thought up by St Thomas Acquinas, with the same tussle between eternal salvation and damnation. New lanes are being built, but to a schedule that seems to envisage completion years, rather than months, from now. And it is still easy to drive along the construction sites and find that nobody is there or working. Why, for example, does construction stop over the weekend?

As far as I know, the M50 is the only motorway/freeway in the world with its own website. In many ways that is most appropriate, as it has become such an important part of the collective Irish consciousness. And yet, I would love to spend less time on it, so that I can lead my life where it is more enjoyable and more profitable. I hope that the day when I can do that is dawning. But I doubt it.