Trend in demand for agriculture courses ‘shifts’ as economy picks up

There has been a shift away from full-time agriculture courses towards distance education as the economy has grown, according to Salesian Agricultural College (Pallaskenry, Co. Limerick) Principal Derek O’Donoghue.

Course sizes for distance education were about four times the size of full-time courses in the Level 5 Certificate in Agriculture due to mature students returning to study, O’Donoghue told Agriland.

But the steadily improving economic climate could lead to a 10-15% reduction in intake for the academic year beginning in September, as full-time students look to other sectors for opportunities.

GNP, which accounts for the value of domestically-produced goods and services, grew 9% last year, according to figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO). 

O’Donoghue said: “The indication is that the number of applications on the full-time level 5 course is less compared to last year. That is the course starting in September.

“That trend is cyclical. The last time the economy picked up, intake at agricultural colleges dropped nationally. Similarly, they peaked during the recession.”

O’Donoghue explained that six agricultural colleges across the country delivered the full-time Level 5 Certificate, as well as the distance education option for people who already had a third-level qualification.

Salesian Agricultural College has two intakes amounting to 402 students on its distance education course, compared to a peak number of 104 for students on the full-time course.

We’re seeing a reduction in full-time students but an upward shift in distance education. People on the distance education course are in their mid-to-late 20s or 30s – mature students.

“Overall, the number of students is still high. But there are more realistic class sizes. We have better student-to-teacher ratios, which had probably been too weak previously,” O’Donoghue said.

The deadline for agriculture college full-time course applications was May 26 but O’Donoghue expected to consider applications until the entrance exams on June 26.