More than a quarter of students who enrol in computer science courses in Irish universities fail to complete their studies, according to the first national study of non-completion rates.
Concern over the high dropout rates in areas of key national interest in terms of job creation and retention has been expressed by Don Thornhill, chairman of the Higher Education Authority, which issued the report. He welcomed a new task force on science, which has been falling in popularity in secondary schools.
Science, technology and information technology graduates are vital for the continued health of Ireland's booming economy. United States companies invested $16.1 billion (£11 billion) in Ireland by late 1998. More than 580 US subsidiaries employ almost 86,000 people in industries from electronics and computer products, and pharmaceuticals to retailing, banking and finance.
While the overall non-completion rate for all disciplines was 16.8 per cent, this masked big variations between institutions, ranging from 12.9 per cent for the National University of Ireland, Galway, to .9 per cent for the National University of Ireland, Maynooth.
High rates in science in Maynooth drove up its non-completion rate, but the university said that the data were out of date and that they did not take into account transfers to other institutions.
The non-completion rate for medicine and other professional areas such as law, dentistry and veterinary medicine was much better -just over 7 per cent. But more than a fifth of science students (22.2 per cent) failed to graduate, as did 26.9 per cent of computer studies students.