How do regional college courses measure up?

Education Minister Joe McHugh came under fire this week after he suggested that students could pursue “regional options” as pathways to their chosen career if the expense of university was an issue.

How do regional college courses measure up?

Education Minister Joe McHugh came under fire this week after he suggested that students could pursue “regional options” as pathways to their chosen career if the expense of university was an issue.

Ahead of the release of the Leaving Cert results, Minister McHugh told RTÉ: “University is a very expensive journey for many families. Accommodation is one barrier.

"One thing I am very attentive to is that no more cost is put on parents and households. Yes, we have a funding issue within universities.

“There are other stepping stones to careers. There are regional options. I don’t want students to feel that they have to go to the cities.

"There are different ways, different stepping stones, different pathways to careers. There are other options and they could be at regional level.”

The race for college accommodation is well and truly underway at this point, so these comments might have missed the mark with many students, and their families, around the country.

A recent study by Zurich found that, with a third-level education now costing up to €35,320, four out of ten parents fell into debt this year funding their child’s college expenses.

Rapid increases in both accommodation and college fees have also prompted anger across student bodies.

In June, students protesting at an increase to the capitation fee at University College Cork (UCC) staged a sit-in at the president’s wing of the university.

So, if a student can't afford to relocate for university, how do the regional courses measure up?

An analysis of this year’s Central Applications Office (CAO) first-round offers shows that while there is good variety in the different types of courses on offer regionally, there are some courses that are only available in the four major cities.

There are 252 different level eight courses available 'regionally', focused mainly in Carlow, Dundalk, Sligo, Tralee, and Letterkenny.

Limerick Institute of Technology also runs a number of degrees from campuses based in Clonmel and Thurles.

Looking at the courses on offer outside of the four major cities, there is a really good mix of creative arts degrees, as well as level eight courses in engineering, law, sciences, or manufacturing.

There is also a good mix of level seven and level six degrees, as well as further education and training courses.

But the quickest route to certain careers, including pharmacy, medicine, occupational therapy, or teaching, is still through courses on offer in Cork, Limerick, Dublin, and Galway.

For example, if a student wants to pursue an undergraduate degree in primary school teaching and they live outside of Dublin, Maynooth or Limerick, there is no alternative option.

While there are a number of courses available regionally that could lead a student down the primary education route, the relevant professional degrees must be completed in either Limerick or Dublin.

On-campus accommodation at Mary Immaculate College begins at €3,200 for a single room. In Dublin City University, where two-degree courses are offered, accommodation starts at €5,664 on the Glasnevin Campus, and the on-campus St Pat's rate begins at €5,555.

Students from Cork and Kerry travelling up and down to Limerick on the bus weekly can also expect to spend an additional €648 on their transport over the course of a year, with this figure rising even higher if they are travelling up and down from Dublin or Maynooth.

While there are a number of both level seven and level eight courses relating to pharmacy available regionally, these tend to focus on pharmaceutical science.

The only undergraduate degrees in journalism are available in either Limerick, Galway or Dublin, and the majority of health-related courses, including medicine, are also focused in the four major cities.

While there are a number of business courses on offer regionally, commerce is only available in Cork, Galway or Dublin.

There's a good offering of engineering, architecture and science degrees regionally, but there is more variety on offer at the country's eight universities.

This increases, even more, when you take into account more courses available at institutes of technology in Cork and Limerick.

This isn’t to knock or take away from courses outside of the major cities.

But if these courses are being cited as the solution when valid questions around the affordability of a third level education are raised, more regional options need to be offered.

When contacted by the Irish Examiner, a spokesman for Education Minister Joe McHugh said the Minister's statement this week was "not a one-dimensional answer to (the) wide-ranging and complex issues of third-level funding and cost of living for students, but a wish to reflect how students have many options which they can consider, whatever their results."

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