Quinn hints at higher points for science


OFFERING HIGHER points in the Leaving Certificate for science was one possible way of persuading more students to take subjects in that area, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has said.

“Yes, I will be looking for that kind of thing,” the Minister told reporters at the MacGill Summer School last night.

“The points system is decided by the universities and the third-level colleges themselves,” he said.

The Minister added that this was used as “a form of crowd-control” for students coming into the third-level system. Addressing the summer school on the topic 2031, 20 Years of Radical Reform, the Minister said there were major challenges that must be met with “radical and innovative measures”.

“Last year we had just over one million full-time students in education – in seven years’ time we will have an extra 100,000 students in full-time education,” he said. The Minister added that: “The manner in which the points system and the grinds industry skews subject choice is not in the best interests of the country at this present time.

“We need more students to take the ‘stem’ subjects – science technology, engineering and maths. Yet more students take geography or French at higher level in the Leaving than the combined totals taking physics and chemistry.

“Only one science subject – biology – features in the top 10 most popular subjects at higher level,” he said. Looking at the broad reform agenda, the Minister continued: “Setting an objective and plotting a course to achieve it is a good start.

“Twenty years from now seems a very long time, and it is. But it is no further away than 1991.

“Everyone knows where they were then and what they were doing at that time. It is important that we start the journey of radical reform so that we will be in time to fully celebrate the bicentenary of the radical establishment of primary education in Ireland in 1831,” Mr Quinn said.

Deputy chairwoman of the Higher Education Authority Mary Canning, speaking in a personal capacity, said most Irish third-level students received an education that costs many times more than the contributions or fees that they paid. In making the case for increased contributions from students, Dr Canning was mindful that this was a very difficult issue for the less well-off and also that it was difficult politically. In advocating a return to student fees in Ireland, it was important to avoid the example of the UK where the government had miscalculated by allowing institutions set fees up to £9,000.

Unsurprisingly, many English institutions had rushed to charge the top levels of fee, thereby providing a useful lesson on how to inflate the costs of tertiary education. In Ireland, fees should be set by Government and should vary by institution and by specialisation, reflecting, at least in part, their relative costs.

Ideally, also, Ireland should move to a point where means-testing students to determine eligibility for fees exemption would become the norm. A loan scheme for both living costs and tuition fees would allow education to be free at the time of delivery, and for repayment out of future income. Ireland should make an immediate start on the preparation of a student loan scheme, making the rate dependent on the level of future income received, Dr Canning said.