Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Better Gender Balance Trends in this year's Leaving Certificate Results

This year's Leaving Cert results released last week show some very encouraging trends. The biggest headline news was the 72% increase in the numbers taking the higher level maths paper over the past three years from 16% in 2011 to 27% this year. There were two reasons for this, firstly the introduction of the bonus CAO points for a grade D or higher and also the impact of the new Project Maths curriculum.


There's another exciting trend in the results this year and that is that girls are now excelling over boys in most science and engineering subjects. Boys had a higher honours rate over girls in only five Leaving Cert subjects - Maths (by a narrow margin), Applied Maths, Latin, Agricultural Economics and Engineering. In all of the remaining 54 Leaving Cert subjects girls had a higher success rate.

The number of girls who took Physics this year at higher level jumped by 19% compared to a 9% increase for boys. Similarly in Chemistry female participation rose by 11% compared to 2% among males.

There was an even bigger shift in subjects once seen as near-exclusively male. The number of girls taking construction studies at higher level rose by 15% to 451, applied maths by 22% to 412 and engineering by 30% to 203. The relative numbers taking these subjects are small but the growing trends of increased female interest is remarkable. Were these increases to be maintained year on year it would transform female participation in the STEM subjects.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock
In contrast, the number of girls doing home economics at higher level actually dropped by 3% to 7,954 this year. One of the biggest disparities was in languages where there was a 5% gap in the greater female numbers taking Irish and French at higher level.

Both UCD Engineering and UCD EGA are very concerned at the lower female numbers entering First Year Engineering in 2013 and will soon publish a Report on this issue.While this issue will take a lot of positive initiative to put right, the trends in this year's Leaving Cert results show that it is possible to attract more girls to do Engineering.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Growth in Irish Economy showing definite signs as Manufacturing output continues to rise

It looks like Ireland is finally on the road to economic recovery after 6  hard years of recession since 2008. Forecasts of Irish recovery published by the EU Commission in May of this year anticipates GDP growth for 2013, 2014 and 2015 to be -0.3%, 1.7% and 3.0% respectively. The Bank of Ireland in their latest July 2014 bulletin are even more optimistic giving comparable figures of 0.2%, 2.8% and 3.4% respectively.

The ESRI in their Summer Quarterly Economic Commentary published yesterday are even more optimistic than Bank of Ireland giving comparable figures of 0.2%, 3.0% and 3.7% for GDP growth. Regardless of whose figures you believe the underlying message is clear - the Irish economy is well on the road to very positive recovery in the years ahead!

Much of the growth to date has been driven by exports of manufacturing products. It is therefore confirmed that it is the engineering profession who have been driving our economic recovery in recent years in IT, pharma (despite the patent cliff), machinery and medical devices.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock
In July Ireland's manufacturing sector recorded its 14th consecutive month of growth as output hit a three month high and the UK was cited as a key source of new business. This is gratifying news and hope that the Autumn 2013 EGA Panel Discussion with An Taoiseach on Job Creation in Manufacturing might have helped to highlight this important sector led by engineers. We cannot be complacent however as there are still fiscal difficulties in the eurozone area with growth slowing in Spain and Greece and Italy re-entering recession this month.
An Taoiseach with the panel of speakers on Job Creation in Manufacturing in UCD October 2013
 L to R: Philip O'Doherty, E&I Engineering, Martin Mc Vicar, Combilift,  Edmond Harty, Dairmaster
and Ian Quinn Creganna Taxtc Medical

The ESRI is predicting that domestic consumption in Ireland which has floundered since the crash would rise 2% this year on the back of improving conditions in the labour market. It is also noted that retail sales are strong so far this year with sales of cars and household goods both on the up.They also forecast a need for 54,000 new homes in Dublin over the next 7 years. The Construction Industry Federation (CIF) respond that only 2,000 new homes will be built in Dublin this year.

Even our unemployment rate is starting to fall from a high of 14.8% in 2011 down to 13.1% in 2013 and expected 11.5% this year. It is forecast by ESRI to be below 10% in 2015. While unemployment remains stubbornly high, at the same time with the need for more housing particularly in Dublin region there will be a severe skills shortage for construction and civil engineering trades and professionals in the years ahead.

House prices in Ireland are 27% undervalued currently according to the ESRI. Price increases of 16% in Dublin and 6% nationally were recorded in 2013.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock
The EU Commission warn though that Ireland is vulnerable to the continuing effect of legacy debt particularly in the SME sector. It also warned that Ireland's high dependence on imported energy could leave the state particularly susceptible to changes in energy prices arising from the Ukraine crisis noting that Ireland imports about 85% of our energy needs. This situation will of course change dramatically with the commissioning of the new Shell Corrib Gas Field in 2015 which has a capacity to supply approx 60% of Ireland's needs for a period of some 20 years.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Farewell to our German Ambassador who 'will never leave Ireland'


For the past three years Ireland was fortunate to have a German Ambassador at a critical time in our history who really understood our Irish ways. He arrived with his wife Anne three years ago in 2011 when Ireland was about to enter a bailout deal with the Trioka - the European Central Bank based in Frankfurt, the European Commission in Brussels and the International Monetary Fund based in New York.
Dr. Eckhard L├╝bkemeier,German Ambassador to Ireland
Image Courtesy of tcd.ie

In Autumn 2012 we in the UCD Engineering Graduates Association were looking at ways of reinvigorating our organisation. We had our own 'Troika' at this task - outgoing EGA President Michael Loughnane, UCD Dean of Engineering Professor Gerry Byrne and myself. We also enlisted the wisdom and good counsel of former EGA President Dr Liam Connellan in planning the event.

We conceived a Panel Discussion on a subject of major national importance with leading speakers who would attract an audience. The principal media story in late 2012 was the terms of the banking bail out and the liklihood or otherwise of some monetary relaxation of its terms. Of paramount importance and influence were the views of the German Government and of its Chancellor Angela Merkel as Germany is recognised as the economic powerhouse of the Europe as well as the anchor of the Euro zone.

We settled on the title 'Can we shape Ireland's recovery on the German model' and we decided to invite the German Ambassador Dr Eckhard Luebkemeier to lead the discussion. This was through the good offices of Professor Gerry Byrne who has close industry and academic links with Germany having studied, lived and worked there.

We then picked a Panel of distinguished speakers drawn from different walks of life with a knowledge of Germany and of EU matters - Professor Brigid Laffan former UCD Professor of European Politics, Dr Brian Sweeney former Chairman/CEO Siemens Ireland, Management Consultant and UCD Engineer Stephen Donnelly Independent TD for Wicklow/East Carlow and UCD Dean of Engineering Professor Gerry Byrne who spent 10 years working for Daimler Benz in Germany and where he took his Doktor-Ingenieur degree in TU Berlin.

The event was a resounding success chaired by Pat Kenny then of RTE and led by the charming Ambassador whose intellect is as sharp as a razor. He had a difficult role in simply but frankly explaining the German view that Ireland itself was the author of its own misfortune through our overheated property market aided by over-lending and lack of proper regulation in the banking sector. Yet it fell to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to lead the EU out of recession and nurse the broken economies of Greece Spain Portugal and Ireland back to full health. This was and is still being successfully done as Ireland exited the bailout in December 2013 and now Portugal will soon also do so.
Pictured at the UCD EGA Debate were L-R:
P.J. Rudden President of UCD EGA,
Dr. Bridgid Laffan Professor of European Politics UCD,
Dr. Eckhard L├╝bkemeier German Ambassador,
Professor Gerry Byrne Dean UCD Engineering, Dr. Brian Sweeney,
 Stephen Donnelly TD and Debate Chair Pat Kenny.

The Ambassador was frank in his advice to Ireland - that 'just do it the German way will not work. A country's model can't be transplanted like a human organ'. He then outlined what is good about the German model. 'We offer high-tech combined with high quality. We make things that are coveted elsewhere. Our exports are worth about 40% of our GDP and an increasing share is going to BRICS economies'.

He asked what Barcelona football and German engineering have got in common?
'The Financial Times put it like this: they both hire and nurture apprentices'. Also, there is a social partnership arrangement in both public and private sectors - this only exists in the public sector in Ireland. 

'In Germany long before the recession as part of Agenda 2010 we had to launch a structural reform process that involved belt tightening on the part of German workers and consumers. We are now reaping the rewards of this process. This experience is also informing our approach to the Euro crisis which has laid bear some of its inefficiencies - too much public and private debt, too little competitiveness and too much financial alchemy in an unregulated financial sector'.

'Germany needs Europe and Europe needs Germany also. The crisis has shown that we need more joint decision making and common oversight. Better then to have a common currency that provides protection against erratic capital flows and significantly enhances the efficiency of the internal market. And better too to belong to a peaceful and prosperous European neighbourhood based on mutual trust and solidarity'

We bid farewell to a wise diplomat who he says 'will never leave Ireland' meaning in a literal sense of course.