An article in todays Irish Times brings the news that the "points race" for university entrance is back. Of course it never actually went away since there is significant excess demand in general, the number of applicants being about twice the number of places.
However the article does record evidence of a fall in demand for degrees leading to qualifications in sectors hit by the down-turn notably construction (like architecture, civil engineering) and also law. This trend kicked in last year. This makes sense, doesn't it? Well not if you believe human capital theory which says that people choose their education to maximize (discounted) life cycle earnings. Remember by the time this year's university entrants start out on their careers (in 4 or 5 or 6 years time), the worst of the recession will be over. So it looks to me that students are putting far too much weight on current events. Or, more likely, their parents are. Of course other markets, like the stock market which has lots of highly sophisticated, highly paid agents, also display excess volatility. However decisions in that market are taken very very quickly whereas one hopes that decisions about career choice are made in a more sedate fashion.
I wonder is this an argument for moving to an American style system where professional degrees are at graduate level, taken after a fairly general undergraduate degree? At that point, students would make much more mature decisions. It would also remove much of the pressure at the Leaving Certificate level so pedagogy could be focused on actually learning useful skills and not rote-learning and the mindless accumulation of points. It would also help students from low SES backgrounds to access these professions since once they get into university they tend to do okay.