CAO may be expanded to include further education courses

Department of Education paper questions whether too many students go to college

Students checking the CAO first round offers. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Students checking the CAO first round offers. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

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A new CAO system that would allow school leavers to apply for both university and further education courses is under consideration by the Department of Education.

The proposal is contained in a draft departmental consultation paper, seen by The Irish Times, which acknowledges criticism that too many students are choosing higher education over options such as apprenticeships and further education courses.

Some 64 per cent of Irish school leavers currently progress to higher education, which is the highest proportion in the European Union.

The paper proposes breaking down barriers between higher and further education and allowing a student, for example, to transfer seamlessly from a course in a post-Leaving Cert college to university.

It is part of a broader vision aimed at tackling what some see as a status problem with further education, which leads many school leavers to regard it as a “second-best” choice.

The draft consultation paper, A Tertiary Education System for Ireland, is due to be published shortly.

It acknowledges criticism that “too many learners are being encouraged into higher rather than further/vocational education” and that some graduates are ending up in low-skilled jobs.

In some individual courses, only a handful of students are making it to the end.
The draft paper says a “good education system should meet the needs of all students” who should not have to “think in terms of artificially selecting between further education and higher education”.

It also notes that, internationally, there is a growing recognition that university credentials may be “overemphasised in comparison to other post-secondary options”.

The CAO system currently only offers students course choices in higher education institutions.

Centralised system

The draft paper says there could be scope for a new enhanced CAO system to manage students’ applications for courses at all levels or an entirely new centralised system could be created.

The CAO, a not-for-profit company that manages applications on behalf of third-level colleges, declined to comment on the report’s proposals.

The draft report notes that, unlike most developed countries, demographic trends indicate the number of schools leavers is set to grow significantly in Ireland over the coming years.

It says a more “unified” education system is needed to ensure the needs of school leavers and employers are met. However, it says higher education will still need a distinct, high-quality research system.

The draft paper says a “good education system should meet the needs of all students” who should not have to “think in terms of artificially selecting between further education and higher education”.

One major challenge to greater integration identified in the report is potential reform to staff terms and conditions to ensure there is a more access to courses year-round, as well as evening courses and online delivery.

This has been a particular issue in the further education sector, where most post-Leaving Cert colleges are closed to trainees during summer months.

The consultation paper says the proposals are being published as a “stimulus for interested individuals and institutions” to provide their views.