Newly branded ‘Maynooth University’ plans radical reform of curriculum

University plans to reduce entry courses from 50 to as few as 15 amid calls for further changes to points system

NUI Maynooth is planning a radical shake up of its curriculum which will see up to two-thirds of its entry courses being phased out to allow undergraduates to specialise later in their studies.

The third-level institution, which will be known as Maynooth University from September 1st under a rebranding exercise, is seeking to reverse a trend across the sector of forcing school-leavers into narrow college entry routes.

Speaking to The Irish Times, its president Philip Nolan said: "There will be significantly broader entry routes for Maynooth for students filling out their CAO forms in Christmas 12 months . . . for 2017, I would say at most Maynooth would have 20 entry routes, perhaps 15."

Currently, NUI Maynooth has 50 entry routes, represented by separate CAO course codes.

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan has urged colleges to reduce the number of such entry routes amid renewed concern this year that the proliferation of “prestige” courses with very low intake is distorting the points system.

Scoring points

Colleges can guarantee a high points rating by offering a handful of places but very often applicants find themselves sharing broadly the same curriculum as students who enter the same institution through a different course code.

Prof Nolan said: “There needs to be transparency about how many places are on offer in any given course upfront.” If colleges offer fewer places than planned or have fewer than 30 on a course they should explain why.

The Irish Times is for the first time today publishing, in the “College Choice 2014” supplement, figures showing how many places were filled under each course code last year. The figures show that of 903 higher degree (level 8) courses offered by colleges in 2013, 570 (or 63 per cent) were filled by fewer than 30 students.

‘Embroiled’ in system

Asked about those courses offered by NUI Maynooth which had an intake below 30, Prof Nolan – who chairs an

Irish Universities Association

task force on admissions reform – replied: “I quite happily state that all of us have become embroiled in a system where we’ve been using the points system . . . to try to attract students in, and that Maynooth along with other universities has too many courses with very small numbers that are there for historic reasons to do with ensuring that points are not seen to sink too low.

“The fundamental thing we need to get away from is high points courses are better courses. We are all kind of trapped in that internal competition between ourselves because of a public perception that a 500-point course is better than a 400-point course.”

Under the planned new curriculum for Maynooth, first year students from September 2015 will be able to sample different modules across faculties and then “progressively specialise”. The reforms include greater emphasis on work experience and volunteering off-campus, and a new model of assessment that will evaluate critical thinking and communications skills.

“It’s possible to get a degree in this university and in other universities without ever making an oral presentation – without ever doing a piece of work in a group and being assessed on the outcome of that – and that has to change,” he said.

As for the rebranding, approved by the governing authority last year, while its legal name will remain unchanged, Maynooth University will now be the title used in official communications, and progressively in academic publications.