Trinity College Dublin planning overhaul of admissions

Figures show 20% of third-level courses admitted 10 students or less last September

Change to Trinity College’s admissions procedure should allow students to specialise later in their studies. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Change to Trinity College’s admissions procedure should allow students to specialise later in their studies. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times


Trinity College Dublin is planning a major overhaul of its college admissions procedures to allow students entering the university to specialise later in their studies.

The move comes amid fresh criticism this year of the growth of “niche” courses with a small intake on the annual Central Applications Office (CAO) listings.

Colleges have been accused of manipulating CAO points by keeping numbers low on courses or reducing student intake.

Figures published by The Irish Times, as the CAO second round offers are made, show that 20 per cent of higher education courses admitted 10 students or fewer last September.

Of 766 level 8 (honours degree) courses for which data was obtained, 453 courses – or 59 per cent – had fewer than 30 places.

The fragmentation of courses at level 6/7 (ordinary degree or higher diploma) is even more stark with 70 per cent of courses having an intake below 30 last September.

An Irish Universities’ Association (IUA) task force has called for greater transparency around admissions strategies as well as a reduction in course codes to try to take some of the heat out of the points race.


Its chairman, NUI Maynooth president Prof Philip Nolan, has said colleges should explain why if there are fewer than 30 students on a course.

In a statement the association said its initial target to reduce the number of entry routes in the 2015 CAO handbook back to 2011 levels had been achieved.

“Further reductions for 2017 are now planned by all universities with an estimated additional 20 per cent reduction across the sector by 2017 and beyond,” it said.

Separately, Trinity College Dublin said it was planning to reform its entry mechanism for humanities which forces school-leavers to chose their subject combinations prior to starting college.

The university has reduced the number of course codes under its two-subject moderatorship (TSM) programme by 11 to 172 for new entrants in 2016.

It has also begun what it described as “an ambitious education project” in which it is renewing its undergraduate curricula and structures, and this will include a review of denominated entry routes.

“TSM is a core part of this review, and we anticipate achieving a significant reduction in our course codes in this programme.


“We also anticipate reconfiguration in other courses, course entry routes, and quotas,” the university said in a statement.”

The IUA said the seven universities offered a combined total of 599 level 8 courses this year, four fewer than in 2011.

However, the number is still well up on 2000 when there were just 220 level 8 honours degree programmes across all higher education institutions.

Broader experience

“Some of the universities are undertaking very radical restructuring of and a new curricular approach to their undergraduate programmes to achieve a much broader experience for their students in their early undergraduate years. This is also contributing to the reduction in entry routes,” the Universities’ Association said . See CAO round two supplement