Colleges accused of ‘inflating’ CAO points

More than one-third of listed courses have 15 or fewer places, latest figures indicate

More than one-third of courses being offered by universities and institutes of technology have 15 or fewer places, latest figures show, in a pattern linked to the “artificial inflation” of college entry points.

An analysis by The Irish Times of the 1,400 CAO courses provided annually by higher education institutions shows that only 65 courses have 100 or more places.

Universities and institutes of technology have pledged to reduce the number of courses on offer to make the CAO application simpler, thus allowing students greater flexibility in their college options.

However, the figures indicate little progress in the area, with the number of CAO course codes at higher degree (level 8) rising from 903 in 2013 to 941 this year. They are expected to fall back to about 925 in 2015.


‘Prestige courses’

Colleges have been widely criticised for populating the CAO lists with narrowly-defined, “prestige” courses that attract high points by virtue of having a very low intake. For institutes of technology having a variety of entry codes is seen as a way of boosting profile and creating greater competition among applicants.

Very often students who enter an institution through different course codes end up being taught a near-identical curriculum.

Commenting on the figures, Clive Byrne, director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, said there was a need to accelerate reform of the college entry system.

“We would be very keen that the numbers [of courses] would be reduced and that genuine courses would be made available, which would have a knock-on effect of reducing the points level.”

He said it was widely acknowledged that some courses were being offered as part of a larger discipline simply to “inflate the points”, and he welcomed the universities’ commitment to tackle the problem.

“The problem is none of the universities will go first. They all want to go together.”

A steering group on college entry reform involving various education stakeholders published a report last summer. It said the State’s seven universities had committed to ensuring the number of undergraduate courses offered in 2015 was reduced to 2011 levels.

Universities and institutes of technology were also “intensively reviewing their programme portfolios to reduce the complexity of choice and to ensure broader entry programmes into higher education”, states the report.

However, the figures indicate major inconsistencies across institutions. NUI Maynooth, for example, offers four engineering-related courses through the CAO with just 26 places in total. One of the courses, "electronic engineering with communications", had just two places last year.

Level 8 degree In contrast, TCD offered two engineering courses

with 185 places and UCD offered one engineering course with 283 places.

Among institutes of technology, Tralee IT was shown to offer four tourism-related, higher-degree courses last year with 15 places. These included "travel and tourism management", which had just two places and an entry requirement of 340 points.

In contrast, Cork IT offered one level 8 tourism course for 13 students with a general entry requirement of 250 points.

The figures showed that of 903 higher-degree (level 8) courses offered in 2013, 329 had 15 or fewer places, and 42 had three or fewer.

Of 444 ordinary degree or higher certificate (level 6/7) courses, 150 had 15 or fewer places and 22 had three or fewer.

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column