Leaving Cert students lose points race


Leaving Cert students are being squeezed out of high-demand courses like medicine and dentistry, creating a new points race, latest figures reveal.

Figures from the Central Applications Office (CAO) show that just 4 per cent of the 12,000 students who applied for places in these courses were successful last year.

The figures indicate how first-time Leaving Cert students are losing out to repeat students and students from Britain and Northern Ireland.

The CAO figures show that only about 60 per cent of the 800-odd places in medicine, pharmacy, dentistry and veterinary will be available to this year's Leaving Certs.

Last year more than 12,000 Leaving Cert students listed these courses in their CAO preferences but only 516 places were made available to current-year students.

This is because almost 40 per cent of these places go to either repeat Leaving Cert students or to those applying from Britain and Northern Ireland.

Last night a leading careers expert said the new figures highlighted how unfair the current system was for students.

Brian Mooney, president of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, said the "appalling undersupply of places in these key areas was unfair to students and will create a crisis for the health service going forward". The CAO figures show how almost one in five of those taking medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and veterinary repeated the Leaving Cert last year in order to secure the much-coveted places.

The huge number of repeats is a key factor driving CAO points to record levels for these courses.

More than 560 points were required for all of these courses last year - the equivalent of five A1s and a B1 in the Leaving.

The number of repeats gaining places in these four disciplines is more than twice the average for other courses. The very high points requirement for these courses is also being driven by the lack of places.

The CAO figures show that only 823 places were available in the four high-demand courses of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and veterinary last year. Of these:

a total of 165 places went to students from Britain and Northern Ireland;

a further 142 went to students who had repeated the Leaving Cert;

only 516, or 62 per cent, of these places were available to last year's Leaving Cert students.

The pattern will be repeated next week when the first round of CAO offers is published next Monday.

Even fewer places could be available this year because of Trinity's controversial decision to "reserve" places in medicine for students from Northern Ireland. The new figures will increase pressure on the Government to resolve the crisis in health training.

The universities receive only about €6,000 per year to train EU students in these disciplines whereas non-EU students are paying over €30,000 for these places. This helps to explain the reluctance of the colleges to offer more places at the current going rate for EU candidates.

The crisis is clear in medicine where Northern Ireland is providing almost as many places (260) as the Republic (308) for a population of a third of the size.

Last month a ministerial working group proposed that the number of places for Irish and other EU medical students in the State should be more than doubled and the number of non-EU students trained here reduced.

The Fottrell working group, established jointly by the Minister for Health and the Minister for Education, recommends a multi-stream entry model to medicine, to include graduates as well as post-Leaving Cert students.

With EU student entry capped at 300-plus places per annum since 1978, the group found the number of non-EU entrants to medicine increased by 96 per cent between 1998 and 2002.

Acknowledging that medical schools here have become overdependent on fees from non-EU students as a result of this increase, the group calls for increased State funding for all future entrants to medicine.

The Fottrell group, formally known as the Medical Education and Training Working Group, was asked to examine the feasibility of introducing a system of graduate entry to medicine.