The front page story on yesterday's Irish Times referred to the expected increase in CAO points for popular course in Irish third level institutions.
There are two notable things for me in this story. First, that we now seem to be worried that the points for science are too high - putting potential students off. This contrasts with annual warnings for the last number of years about the lack of interest in maths and science among students. It's now clear enough that students were not put off science or maths but that, like any other smart consumer, were making decisions based on the best return to their investment in education.
Second, I wonder why the increase in points is any surprise. The headline could just as easily read "The price of things go up when more people want them". A basic knowledge of supply and demand would lead one to conclude that more popular courses at third level will see an increase in the price of getting in.
And CAO points operate in exactly the same way as prices in a market. The points are the currency which students and institutions use to exchange for limited places on programmes.
There is growing pressure on third level institutions to reform their entry processes to take the heat out of the points race. It seems to me this pressure has increased in recent years relative to the Celtic Tiger years. Although third level participation increased during that time more people had opportunities to go directly to the labour market. As unemployment remains high (especially among young people) there is greater demand to postpone entry to the labour market among leaving cert students and the government would also be anxious to accommodate as many of those students as possible at third level.
Further, both government and students want to achieve this with less resources going to third level and without charging students the cost of their education.
Also, the question has to be asked whether we should continue to increase participation at all third level institutions. While nobody who is capable should be unable to attend third level for financial reasons (the SUSI debacle doesn't exactly help), we do have to ask whether going to university or an IT is appropriate for everyone - or even for a majority.
As long as we expect higher participation at third level - especially at a time when there are resource constraints - expect the points race to stay just as hot as it is now.
I'm an economist so many of these posts will be about economic issues. But since everyone is allowed a view on economics I am inclined to go beyond my profession to throw my tuppence ha'penny into other issues.