College entry reform to ease points race


University presidents are set to back a radical reform of the college entry system which will result in wider availability of general entry courses – and the abolition of many highly specialised first-year courses.

The move, designed to take some of the “heat” out of the points race, should see CAO points fall to more accessible levels for many students.

Colleges will roll out more common entry courses in areas such as general arts; general science; general engineering; general technology; general health sciences and so on.

The plan is that students take a generic first-year course in a chosen areas – such as arts, business or engineering – and then opt for a more specialised course at the end of first year.

The change will have no impact on points for the Leaving Cert class of 2013. It can only be introduced when the current two-year cycle ends in 2014.

A working party, representing the seven university presidents and headed by NUI Maynooth’s Dr Philip Nolan, is set to agree the change early in the new year. It is expected to be approved by academic councils in each university.

In response to pressure from Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn, the presidents accept the dramatic increase in specialised first-year courses is a key factor driving the points race.

“The whole college entry system is hugely complex and interconnected. But there is agreement that we need more broadly-based first-year courses,” one president said last night.

The overall number of college courses on offer through the CAO has trebled over the past 20 years. Students can now choose from more than 1,300 courses in over 45 colleges.

In TCD, there are scores of entry routes into its two-subject moderatorship or BA degree.

In some colleges, there can be between 10 and 20 specialised or denominated courses within some faculties, according to a recent report on the entry system by Dr Áine Hyland of UCC. With only a small number of places on each course, points levels tend to be high.

Universities have favoured these specialised courses as it allows them to draw students with high points scores. But the presidents accept it has “artificially inflated” the points race.

The Nolan group is examining all aspects of the college entry system but it will be several months, at least, before it reports. The group has been examining the direct entry route into professional courses such as medicine, but radical change in this area appears less likely.