The application deadline for this year’s Central Applications Office (CAO) has closed, and data on course preferences has been revealed. It shows applications by course classification and, of course, this is likely to change as students have the ability to amend their choices using the ‘change of mind’ facility until 1 July. However, it does signal trends concerning the preferences of the class of 2024.

Decline in agriculture

There has been a decline in the number of applicants selecting a Level 8 agriculture course classification. It was selected as a first preference by 321 applicants in 2024, This number was 408 in 2023, representing a 21% decline.

Furthermore, there is a 14% decline in applicants selecting the interdisciplinary programmes and qualifications involving agriculture, forestry and veterinary.

A total of 1,595 students mentioned agriculture Level 8 courses in their CAO applications, compared to 1,834 in 2023, representing a 13% decline.

In Level 7/6 courses, 503 people have selected agriculture as a first preference in 2024, compared to 645 last year, this is a 22% decrease.

This is good news for students who have put down an agriculture course on their CAO as points are likely to drop. However, it is not a strong signal for the industry.

Professor of Agriculture Science, Frank Buckley says, “The reality is CAO applications for Ag Science nationally have been yo-yoing year on year for the last few years. Speaking for Agricultural Science at UCC (CK412), we have tended to buck the trend during recent downturns but this year we too are seeing a reduction in our first preferences. The implication is, for the first time we will very likely see a significant drop in the points requirement for our degree this year. From a student’s perspective, the positive here is it will make CK412 more accessible than it has been. My advice to those who would all else being equal like to apply for Agricultural Science at UCC [in partnership with Teagasc Moorepark], but until now considered the points required be a deterrent, go for it, it just could be your lucky year.”

Increase in veterinary interest

Veterinary has seen an increase in applicants for Level 8 courses with 885 people selecting it as their first preference compared to 865 last year, which is a 2% difference. There has been a decline in the total mentions with 1,729 in 2024, compared to 1,852 in 2023, down by 7%.

Similarly in Level 7/6 courses, veterinary is the first preference for 895 applicants in 2024, compared to 876 in 2023, which is a 2% increase. In terms of total mentions 2,668 applicants have veterinary in 2024, compared to 2,370 which is a 13% increase.

When asked for an update on the new veterinary courses Minister Simon Harris has said: “Ensuring a supply of qualified vets to meet the demands of Ireland’s agri-food sector is an important issue for this Department. A number of institutions put forward proposals, following the HEA Expression of Interest process, outlining options for the expansion of veterinary medicine provision.

“Engagements are underway between the Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform and all Departments commencing Q1 2024 on the review of the National Development Plan.”

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