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Students' embarking on their career journey – Is Féidir linn

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Lovers of evening classes

Posted by Francis O' Toole on September 13, 2012

Lovers of evening classes swot up on what course to go for this year

Part-Time Evening Courses

It’s that time of the year again. With the evenings drawing in, many people’s thoughts turn to self-improvement and evening classes. George Garvey analyses the market and looks at what Ireland’s army of evening students are studying

EVENING classes are one of our great seasonal rituals. As soon as the first nip of autumn begins to make itself felt, tens of thousands of people throughout the country home in, as if by instinct, on their nearest adult education college, language institute or private education provider.

But who are these people? What subjects do they study? Are they young or old, male or female? Has the recession influenced their choice of subject? Is the number of evening students up or down?

Aontas, the national adult learning organisation, estimates that up to 300,000 Irish adults, about one in 10 of the total, participate in education, either in formal or informal settings, every year. While this number includes all adults who take part in education and training of any kind and not just evening courses, it does give some indication of the size of the market.

One man who probably has a better overview of the evening course market than anyone else is Kevin Branigan, the publisher of ‘Night Courses’, which has Dublin and Leinster editions, and its sister website nightcourses.com.

He identifies three main groups among those signing up for evening classes: those who are still in the workforce who are seeking to upgrade their skills, people who are out of the workforce but want to return to work and people who are seeking a social outlet (see panel).

“A lot of people are looking to upskill so that they can withstand the recession. They want to do courses with verifiable qualifications. Employers are not paying for training, and people need to provide for themselves,” he says.

“There is now more of a focus on upskilling and on career-related courses with proper certification than there was five or six years ago,” he adds.

Mr Branigan also reckons that women are more likely than men to sign up for evening classes. He puts the proportion of women taking evening classes at 60pc, against 40pc for men.

“Females seem to have a more long-term view,” adds Mr Branigan.

Rathmines College has traditionally been one of the major providers of evening classes on Dublin’s southside. The bulk of its courses are in business, information technology and language subjects.

However, for those dedicated exclusively to intellectual enlightenment, there are also courses in art, tai chi, knitting and, this writer’s favourite, belly-dancing.

“In Rathmines, there is a huge interest in night classes. People call in throughout the year asking about them,” says Bernadette Moore, the principal of Rathmines College. She says that this is due to Rathmines’ central location on one of the main routes out of Dublin city centre heading south.

The number of people taking evening classes at Rathmines College fell last year to 1,700, from 2,000 in 2010. However, this may have been due to the fact that evening classes have now been cut back to just two evenings, Mondays and Tuesdays, from three evenings in 2010.

However, Ms Moore stresses that the number of courses being offered by Rathmines College remains unchanged with evening classes now starting at 5pm instead of 7pm. As a result, many people attending evening classes at Rathmines College come straight from work.

“Before the recession, more people tended to do hobby-type courses. Now we find that the more practical courses tend to fill up more quickly,” says Ms Moore.

For many of those who do sign up for an evening course in September or October, the challenge is maintaining the enthusiasm of autumn beyond the first few weeks.

What proportion of those who pay the fee end up dropping out before completing the course? Fewer than you might think.

Even for those courses that have an exam at the end, between 70pc and 75pc of those who sign up on the first day end up completing the course, according to Ms Moore.

And how does Ms Moore feel the number of evening class students in 2012 is holding up against the numbers recorded in 2010 and 2011? Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait for answer to that question as enrolments for this year’s courses take place on Monday and Tuesday of next week.

The fees for evening classes at Rathmines College range from €50 to €380, with most of them costing between €100 and €200.

Independent College, which is owned by INM, the publishers of this newspaper, is one of the new breed of privately owned education providers. It too has found that students are now seeking out courses that will help them in their careers.

“When we launched, most of our [evening diploma] courses were lifestyle and education. Now people want to skill up or reskill,” says Garret Doyle, chief executive of Independent College.

It offers a large number of part-time evening diploma courses. While many of these diplomas are in subjects such as business, law and communications, there are also a number of evening classes in more exotic subjects.

These include wine and wine culture, genealogy and fashion design. This year, Independent College is offering a number of diplomas in new subjects including project management, mediation, criminal and forensic psychology and financial trading.

Although diploma courses don’t start until October 8, the number of students who have signed up so far is running 31pc ahead of the same time last year, according to Tina Cooke, commercial and marketing manager of Independent College.

Fees for most evening diploma courses at Independent College start from €895.

Most of those taking diploma courses at Independent College are either people who are already in employment seeking to acquire skills that will help them move up the career ladder or people who have been made redundant, using some of the money that they received after losing their jobs to retrain so that they can get a job in another industry, says Ms Cooke.

The majority of those taking diploma courses are female and aged between 25 and 44. Last year, 38pc of those taking diploma courses were aged between 25 and 34, while a further 25pc were aged between 35 and 44. Almost two-thirds, 63pc, of those taking diploma courses were female.

By comparison, those taking Independent College’s degree or post-graduate courses tended to be younger, with 60pc aged 34 or under, and the number was split 50:50 between males and females.

While classes in business subjects and IT have become increasingly popular in recent years, languages have long been one of the mainstays for those considering an evening course.

Several European countries including France (the Alliance Francaise), Germany (the Goethe Institute) and Spain (the Instituto Cerevantes) operate cultural institutes in Dublin.

The main function of these national cultural institutes is to teach their country’s language. By far the largest is the Alliance Francaise.

In fact, the Dublin Alliance Francaise is the world’s third-largest Alliance, behind only those in francophone Paris and Brussels.

Why are the Irish so keen to learn French? “You are Irish, you should know,” replies Alliance spokeswoman Christine Weld. Touche, mademoiselle!

The Alliance Francaise has about 3,500 students at all levels learning French in Dublin, a number that has been increasing steadily in recent years. However, with enrolments for this autumn not due to be completed until September 25, it is too early to judge how many students have signed up for this academic year.

Based on our survey, it would appear that the typical evening class student is female, aged somewhere between her mid-20s and her mid-40s.

While she once might have been inclined to study hobby-type subjects, now she is far more likely to sign up for a business, language or information technology course that will either help her to progress in her career or get back into work.

“We find that evening classes can give people, particularly those who have been out of education for a long time, focus and confidence,” says Mr Doyle of Independent College.

He finds that many students use evening classes as a “taster” before deciding whether or not to embark on a degree programme in the subject.

So what should the would-be student be looking out for when choosing their evening class? The first thing to do is to ensure, in so far as it is possible, that the provider is reputable and is in it for the long haul.

“The number of courses on offer has increased in recent years. However, the sector is going through tough times. Many providers have left the sector over the past four or five years,” says Mr Branigan.

He advises those thinking of studying for evening classes to do plenty of research as there are thousands of courses on offer from hundreds of providers.

“Try to understand what you expect to achieve from the course. Make sure the course is properly accredited and that the provider is reputable.

“You should also ensure that you have sufficient time and money to make the commitment.”

‘Night Courses Dublin’ is now available and costs €3.99, see also nightcourses.com

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