Graduates vie to stay at the top of their game

Growing numbers of college graduates may be going abroad to work but those intent on staying home to improve their qualifications are cautiously optimistic about the future.

At the UCC postgrad open day were Edwina McGrath, Thurles; Katy O'Connor, Bishopstown, Cork; Fiona Jagla, Rochestown, Cork and Antonia McGrath, Thurles. Pic: Denis Minihane

One of 1,200 people who visited last week’s postgraduate open day at UCC, trainee physical education teacher Fiona Jagla faces the same challenges as hundreds of others.

“Unless I get a full 22-hour teaching contract, I will go for a postgraduate course, hopefully in health promotion,” said the Rochestown woman in her fourth and final year of a degree in sports studies and physical education.

She knows plenty who emigrated, but doesn’t see many prospering in work related to their degrees.

“I know a handful who have gone that have only worked in shops, they could be here working in the same supermarket,” she said.

According to Higher Education Authority (HEA) figures, nine months after graduating, 10% of 2012 those with a primary degree were working overseas (double the rate of those who finished college in 2009), 42% had jobs in Ireland and 37% were continuing their studies. Although 11% of those with a postgrad qualification — generally a Masters or equivalent, or a PhD — were in employment abroad, that figure had fallen from the previous year. And earnings — usually a strong reflection of the relevance of work to a person’s qualifications — were much higher for postgraduate degree holders.

Most higher-qualified graduates earned at least €25,000, including one-in-five with salaries of more than €45,000. But more than half those with an honours bachelor degree who had work were being paid under €25,000 a year.

Fewer than one-third of people with computer science degrees below masters level who found employment said it was relevant to their qualification. But colleges are seeing huge interest in postgrad courses in IT, more particularly those linking IT and business.

Michelle Nelson, head of graduate studies at UCC, said postgraduate student numbers were 3,500 and growing. Nearly one-third of UCC’s postgrad students are over 28.

“We now have quite a number coming back to up their skills or study something completely different,” she said.

“For a lot of jobs, that previously would have required a primary degree, now it’s an honours degree and a relevant postgraduate qualification that is needed.”

Dr Maryanne Donovan of the Masters Degree in Molecular Cell Biology with Bioinnovation, speaking with biochemistry students Jenny Moloney, Shauna O’Connor and Joanne Cronin

In the food industry, for example, Ms Nelson refers to increasing demand for people with masters degrees by research, who will have obtained vital lab experience in addition to primary degrees. But she cautions against students in their final year, or others considering a return to college, applying for a postgraduate place just for the sake of it.

The HEA statistics suggest graduates are thinking carefully before applying, with a 7% drop in four years in the proportion going into further education after earning their primary degrees. This could also be tied to restrictions on grant availability or greater difficulty meeting the cost of fees. Most of the masters and higher diploma options on offer at UCC command fees in the €5,000 to €6,000 range, which makes it a big investment for prospective applicants.

Final-year business studies degree students at Cork Institute of Technology, Niall Marshall and Liam McCarthy, went along to UCC to find out more about their options.

The bar is being set by many employers at masters degree level, believes Niall from Killarney. “There could be opportunities abroad too, but I wouldn’t like to go as far as Australia. Things are looking up more than they were two or three years ago,” he says.

Liam McCarthy, Ballylongford, Co Kerry, left, and Niall Marshall, Killarney at the open day.

Liam, from Ballylongford in Co Kerry, was also there to research his options after completing his CIT degree.

“I have a friend with a first-class-honours degree similar to the one I’m doing and he’s still unemployed, so maybe you’re better off doing a Masters. But it won’t be possible unless I can get funding so I might try to find a financial way around it,” he said.

Some of the biggest queues formed around stands for courses in business information systems (BIS), biological sciences, economics, and food business and marketing. Professor Fred Adam, co-ordinator of a masters of business studies in innovation, said there are openings in BIS programmes for people from many disciplines, including law, engineering and languages.

“There’s a shortfall of around 45,000 people, as many as 10,000 of them in Cork, because we can’t get enough IT graduates — but it’s not just for technology companies. Banks, for example, sometimes recruit people who know nothing about the banking sector but who know about managing the cycle of innovation, it’s about providing IT-based solutions for issues in a range of areas,” he said.

Katy O’Connor, a final-year marketing student from Bishopstown in Cork, is interested in courses like information systems for business performance, as one of the few in her class of 20 currently plotting a postgraduate route.

“We’ve done some IT, but this would be half-business and half-IT, which might be for web development or things like that. The idea is to get a better education before I go into the workforce and so hopefully get one up on the rest,” she smiled, saying the extra cost should be worth it in the longer term.

Jessica Ní Mhaolain, Lehenaghmore, Cork at the open day. Pic: Denis Minihane

Jessica Ní Mhaoláin is weighing up whether to continue her studies in public health to masters level, or to change direction with an MBS in government, being heavily involved in Ógra Fianna Fáil.

“Jobs aren’t easy to find in the public sector at the moment and I don’t want to leave the country, so a way to get around that is to stay in education,” explained Jessica, who praised UCC’s disability support service that has helped her through college with a severe visual impairment.

* Prospective students seeking entry to postgrad programmes at UCC and a number of other universities and other colleges must apply online through the Postgraduate Applications Centre: http://www.pac.ie


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