Universities to propose radical shake-up of college points system

21 Aug 2012

Several universities are expected to submit proposals to Education Minister Ruairi Quinn today about a new structure for selecting students for third level places that may replace the controversial CAO points system.

The CAO points system had its uses in streamlining and making selections for college places in Ireland more efficient. However, the fact that it became a points race, glamorising certain courses over others, is believed to have distorted the college selection process over the last 20 to 30 years.

Last week there was a 35pc surge in students taking higher level maths due to the existence of 25 extra bonus points. Yesterday universities across the land saw demand for science and technology courses increase as a result.

So while this is having a desired effect in terms of incentivising students to take up courses and boost their performance in areas of acute need, long overdue questions around fair selection of the right students for the right fields that reflects their interest and aptitude are finally being asked.

This is vital to prevent a fall-out rate if students opt for the fashionable courses and find one year in that it’s not an area of interest to them, for example.

The future shape of college selection in Ireland?

Proposals being brought before the Education Minister include a new ranking system where each Leaving Cert subject would be ranked in relation to its difficulty, according to the Irish Times, as well as a reduction in the number of grades awarded in the Leaving Cert.

They are also proposing more general courses for first year undergraduates, which makes sense in terms of broadening their knowledge base and helping really decide the path they ar pursuing.

Another interesting move is ranking subjects rather than absolute grades. Students had been abandoning important subjects like physics and chemistry in favour of subjects that were perceived as easier and would give them more points.

The universities are also open to the idea of more bonus points schemes for subjects other than maths.

Another novel idea that is in line with practices elsewhere in the world is allowing students to matriculate in subjects like Irish and English in fifth year and gain basic entry requirements to college.

It’s interesting how for years the subject of reforming the outdated and problematic CAO system was avoided as almost a form of heresy. Yet the one year where bonus points actually boost maths and boost the uptake of science and technology courses it looks like action is finally being taken.

It’s interesting but how much will change in the coming years? Minister Quinn’s department is not expected to review the area until 2014.

Graduation image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy
By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years. His interests include all things technological, music, movies, reading, history, gaming and losing the occasional game of poker.

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