Five takeaways from this year’s CAO results

Grade inflation made points jump but extra places stopped them going through roof

The Government was desperate to find additional higher education places in recent weeks as soon as it realised the scale of grade inflation that was coming down the tracks. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The Government was desperate to find additional higher education places in recent weeks as soon as it realised the scale of grade inflation that was coming down the tracks. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

1. Grade inflation sends points soaring

In normal years, CAO points don’t jump around all that much; they tend to creep up or down based on supply and demand for individual courses. This year, everything was different.

Grade inflation under the new calculated grades process sent points for many courses soaring. Overall, points were up across about two-thirds of CAO level-eight or honours degree courses.

At Trinity, for example, points were up for 80 per cent of its courses by an average by about 27 points; at UCD, most courses were up by an average of 35 points.

Some of the biggest individual points increases were recorded at Technological University Dublin. Its early childhood care and education course jumped by a whopping 104 points, while its DNA and forensic analysis soared by 100 points.

The scale of these increases is particularly tough for students who had been anticipating a more modest points rise.

2. Extra places helped ease the pressure

The Government was desperate to find additional higher education places in recent weeks as soon as it realised the scale of grade inflation that was coming down the tracks.

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris delivered more than 2,000 addition places in the last week alone; in total, there was a unprecedented 12 per cent increase in the overall number of third-level places this year.

Still, CAO points rose significantly. We can only imagine how high the points would have been otherwise.

UCD engineering is a good example. It had 265 places on its course last year. Thanks to additional places added recently, it gained 54 places. Yet points jumped by 20 points to 531.

If the points increases were dramatic this year, in the absence of additional places, they would have been off the charts.

3. Bitter pill for previous year’s applicants

This year about 20,000 college applicants applied on the basis of results they secured in previous years. They include mature students, students who took a gap year to work or travel, and people who dropped out of courses and were looking for a fresh start.

About half of these were competing for points alongside the class of 2020 this year. Due to grade inflation this year, their results were significantly devalued.

Many with up to 600 points, who might have considered themselves shoo-ins for their courses, ended up missing them narrowly.

On the plus side, an examination of CAO data shows that about 80 per cent of these deferred applicants got an offer from one their top-three choices; this is a similar proportion to the class of 2020.

4. Job-ready courses

College applications were up this year for areas such as law, veterinary medicine, dentistry and physiotherapy as students flocked towards areas of study with strong job prospects.

By contrast, the number of students applying for courses in areas such as arts, humanities and languages were down.

In the current environment – as was the case during the recession – students are gravitating towards courses with a clearly defined career pathway and away from those where prospects are less defined.

5. Uncertainty over next year

There has been unease within higher education circles over the prospect of students seeking deferrals in large numbers.

With the majority of coursework being taught online, the fear is many students may opt to take a year out and hope college life is closer to normal next year. Some may also risk that a “normal” Leaving Cert will be run next year, which would place them at an advantage due to the grade inflation of this year.

After all, almost 10,000 students who sat the Leaving Cert last year reapplied this year – and that was under normal circumstances.

It all adds up to a lot of uncertainty over what will be happening over the coming weeks and months.