Review of bonus points as guidance counsellors claim it distorts system

 

MATHS CONTROVERSY:MINISTER for Education Ruairí Quinn is under renewed pressure to amend the bonus points system for maths after guidance counsellors concluded it was distorting college entry.

Gerry Flynn, president of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC), last night highlighted the increase in points for non-science courses in the first round of CAO offers. He said many talented and able students were losing out because of the increase in points.

Mr Flynn expressed concern about the distorted impact the bonus points awarded for higher maths has had on other courses “where a high level of mathematical competence is not a core requirement’’.

An Irish Times analysis shows 56 per cent of all higher level university courses registered an increase in points this year.

Mr Quinn and his officials are due to review the impact of the bonus points system this week.

The IGC – a hugely influential group on CAO issues – said it does not believe offering bonus points for honours maths was the most appropriate solution to increase the uptake of science, technology and engineering courses. If bonus points were to be offered they should be targeted at courses where a high standard of mathematical ability was required.

Yesterday DCU president Prof Brian MacCraith said he was delighted to note that more than two-thirds of the university’s degree programmes were showing increased demand, most evident in science-related and business degrees. “Although maths bonus points may have contributed somewhat it is significant that in most cases the points increases far exceed the extra 25 points on offer in higher maths.”

At UCD 17 courses increased by 25 or more points in round one. Prof Mark Rogers, deputy president of the college, said the increases for many courses were in line with the increase in student applications.

NUI Maynooth president Prof Philip Nolan said that while points have risen across the vast majority of courses at the university, the growth in demand for science-related courses was not unexpected. “We have introduced a number of new degrees to facilitate students here. We are particularly pleased with the demand for our new computational thinking degree and, of course, for maths education, which is an important challenge for the country.’’

In recent years NUI Maynooth has been Ireland’s fastest growing university and shows a cumulative growth in CAO first-choice applications of 45 per cent over the past five years.

UL vice-president Prof Paul McCutcheon said the university had “long ago recognised the importance of honours maths and has offered the incentive of extra points to honours maths students applying to study on UL programmes for the past 20 years’’.

He explained how the national roll-out of this practice, while very welcome, has had a short-term impact on the entry level of some UL programmes. “I expected the points adjustment to be more significant, and it is noteworthy that in spite of this many of our existing programmes have shown a points increase this year.”