Students access TCD courses below CAO entry level

Successful applicants were up to 150 points below CAO requirement

 Trinity College Dublin: There were 270 applications for the 25 places in history, law, and ancient and medieval history and culture. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill  Trinity College Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Trinity College Dublin: There were 270 applications for the 25 places in history, law, and ancient and medieval history and culture. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill Trinity College Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Mon, Aug 18, 2014, 06:01

Some 25 students who did not get enough points for three Trinity College Dublin courses are being offered places under a pilot entry scheme.

The scheme, aimed at broadening entry routes to third-level education, is allowing students who got up to 150 points below the CAO entry requirement to qualify under alternative criteria.

The project, running for two years at TCD, is being reviewed later this year by the Irish Universities’ Association (IUA) with a view to rolling it out in other institutions.

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There were 270 applications for the 25 places in history, law, and ancient and medieval history and culture, a “higher than expected level of interest”, said project sponsor Dr Patrick Geoghegan.

The 10 students offered places in law received points scores within 70 points of the required CAO total but demonstrated an aptitude and ability for the course through a “holistic” evaluation process. Ten students were also offered places in history through the scheme, presenting scores within 150 points of the required CAO total.

Points rise

The allocation of these places appeared to have a knock-on effect on the CAO points for remaining candidates, with the entry requirement for history rising from 470 to 485 points and for ancient and medieval history and culture rising from 425 to 450.

Dr Geoghegan noted points for law, the biggest of the three courses, remained unchanged at 530 points. But, he said, on the basis of this year’s allocation, “I think there will be a lot more demand next year” for the scheme.

Three measures were used to evaluate applicants: Leaving Cert results; an anonymous personal statement of interest; and the Relative Performance Rank (RPR) of the applicant – a measure of their results against others in their school.

The process was chaired by retired judge Yvonne Murphy, and included external experts from the field of education.

Dr Geoghegan said “the feasibility study shows that it is possible to use additional factors when assessing applicants, and still maintain anonymity and transparency. The best students are not necessarily the ones with the highest points but ones with the academic ability and potential needed to thrive at third-level, self-reflective and independent thinkers, who are the right fit for the right course.

Achieving dreams

“Instead of just looking at the performance of a student in a single set of examinations, we have used a wider range of indicators, in the attempt to ensure that talented students who don’t necessarily achieve the required points total, are still able to achieve their dreams.”

He added: “These are the kinds of students we want in our classrooms – students who are passionate about learning, independent and critical thinkers, and with the ability and potential to succeed academically.”

Under the TCD project, the review committee did not know any applicant’s name, school they attended, or even their CAO number.

There were no interviews or teacher references, and it made no difference what ranking the applicant gave the course on their CAO form.

For the RPR, Trinity said it adapted an indicator used by many leading universities, including Harvard, on the basis that “the context in which the results were achieved matters”. The IUA is pushing for reform of the college-entry system to take the focus off the “points race”, and broaden entry routes.