Minister urges colleges to tackle ‘confusing’ array of courses

Competition between third-level institutions may be hindering reform

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan, who dropped in to The Irish Times Results Helpdesk yesterday as the team fielded calls, with education columnist Brian Mooney and guidance counsellors Brian Howard and Deirdre Garrett.  The helpdesk is at irishtimes.com/results. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan, who dropped in to The Irish Times Results Helpdesk yesterday as the team fielded calls, with education columnist Brian Mooney and guidance counsellors Brian Howard and Deirdre Garrett. The helpdesk is at irishtimes.com/results. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.

Tue, Aug 19, 2014, 01:58

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan has urged higher-education institutions to cut the number of course offerings on the CAO to reduce the complexity of the system and give greater flexibility to third-level students.

“I think it is confusing to have so many courses, and some of them have very small numbers of places and that has an effect on points,” she said yesterday as CAO offers were made to more than 50,000 applicants.

Working group

Ms O’Sullivan said a working group on the transition between secondary and third-level education was due to report before the end of the year on reforming the college entry system.

While she would await its publication before making any policy recommendations, she said one proposal she found “quite attractive” was the creation of common entry courses.

These would allow students to specialise later in their studies, while also having a deflationary effect on CAO points.

“From my own experience of young people, it is very hard to make a decision on what specific element of a particular area you want to do when you are only 17 or 18.”

Asked was she disappointed that the number of CAO courses rose again this year, despite pledges from higher-education institutions to reduce them, Ms O’Sullivan replied: “I think one of the things that is fairly clear is that they need to work together on this because understandably there is a level of competition between the different colleges, and I think it will be important to bring them together rather than expect individual colleges to necessarily move on their own.”

The Minister was speaking during a visit to a CAO helpline in Glasnevin, Dublin, hosted by the National Parents Council Post Primary and assisted by guidance counsellors.

Ms O’Sullivan also yesterday visited The Irish Times Results Helpdesk – available at irishtimes.com/results – where she met members of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors taking queries from students and parents.

Advice to students

The Minister urged students to “choose the path they are interested in” rather than chase the courses with the highest points. “There are many ways of getting to your goal. You don’t necessarily have had to automatically go through your first choice; there are the PLC courses, there are ways of transferring from one course to another.”

The number of CAO higher degree (level 8) course codes rose from 903 in 2013 to 941 this year. This is despite pledges from universities and institutes of technology to reverse the trend of designing “prestige” or niche courses simply to attract high-points candidates.

An analysis by The Irish Times shows that only 43 of the more than 900 higher degree (level 8) courses listed on the CAO offered 100 or more places in 2013. In contrast, 329 had 15 or fewer places, and 42 had three or fewer.

About 23,000 students had accepted course offers by 5pm yesterday after they were posted on the CAO website cao.ie at 6am. Of the 50,848 applicants receiving a round-one offer, half are receiving their first preference at level 8, and 81 per cent are receiving their first preference at level 6/7.

Applicants have until Monday, August 25th, to accept their round-one offers.

Round-two offers will be available on the CAO website from Thursday, August 28th.