Points reach highest level in decades


CAO points for many college courses have risen to their highest level for decades, raising concerns the new bonus points for maths may be distorting third-level admissions.

In the first round of college offers published this morning, a record 56 per cent of all higher degree university courses register an increase in points. Some 21,500 of the 50,000 offered places today had accepted them before 5pm.

At Trinity College, 81 per cent of courses required increased points, while the figure for DCU and UCD is 68 and 61 per cent respectively.

The points required for university science courses have - for the first time - broken through the 500-point barrier; six years ago, students could enter science in UCD on 300 points.

Broadly, points for areas like computing, technology, paramedicine and agriculture - seen as offering decent job prospects - have surged ahead.

The dramatic increase in points for these courses reflects the marked increase in student demand and the effect of the new bonus points system. But the most striking feature of today's CAO offers is how points are moving upwards or remaining stable - even in areas where student demand is weakening.

More than 11,000 who passed higher-level maths gained the bonus 25 points. This has had a scattergun effect across the entire CAO system putting upward pressure on points for the majority of courses.

Among the main trends are:

* Points for most courses at UCD have risen, with 17 increasing by 25 or more points;

* Trinity College degree courses show increases with points for the omnibus engineering course up 55, from 410 to 465, while points for the popular business, economics and social studies (BESS) programme are up 15 to 495. The general entry science programme is up 35 points from 475 to 510 points;

* On average, points for higher-level computer courses are up by 40 points across the CAO system, with computer applications at DCU up 60 to 400;

* Points have also moved up sharply in other areas. Veterinary medicine at UCD is up 20 to 585, pharmacy at UCC is up 30 in both UCC and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, and dentistry is up 15 at Trinity to 590.

The impact of the new bonus points system is also evident for arts and business. Points for the largest undergraduate course in the State - arts at UCD - are unchanged at 355, despite sluggish student demand. Points for business courses in several of the Dublin universities are also up, despite weakening student demand.

Points for arts at NUI Galway, however, are down 40 to 300.

Joseph O’Grady, operations manager with the CAO, warned that the higher level maths result has to be in the applicant’s top six subjects to count.

He said that while 13,000 applicants presented higher level maths — 11,000 from this summer and 2,000 from previous years — just 3,000 will benefit.

“It’s really important that applicants and their parents or advisers understand this because it might not actually lead to any net benefit to applicants at all,” he told RTÉ radio.

“To calculate points if you got higher D3 or better you add 25 points to your score for maths, and then you find your best six subjects, best six scores, and add them together.”

The Institute of Guidance Counsellors said it was concerned about the distorted effect the bonus points awarded for higher level maths has had on other courses where a high level of mathematical competence is not a core requirement.

“As an institute, we do not think offering bonus points for honours maths is the most appropriate solution to increase the uptake of science, technology and engineering courses,” it said.

Last night, the Teachers' Union of Ireland claimed that the new system was doing more harm than good. It backs a revised, more targeted system where only those taking science-related courses at college secure the bonus points. Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has promised to review the workings of the new system. University academic councils will also review it in 2014.

The scramble for college places on many courses has intensified this year because of the strong results of so many students in Leaving Cert higher-level maths. In all, one-third of those seeking places on higher-level courses went into the points race with bonus points.

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