Beyond the points race?

 

Sir, – The entry into the debate on university entrance criteria in Ireland of the dean of admissions at Harvard University Dr William R Fitzsimmons (October 22nd) illustrates one of the fallacies that dog this debate. Harvard is a private institution with an endowment of more than $36 billion and tuition fees annually of some $40,000. No student has a right of entry to the university – no matter how bright they are. The dean of admissions will have as his goal each year to admit a balanced class of freshman – balanced in terms of intelligence, leadership potential, race, gender, sporting ability – and balanced also in terms of having the potential through family connections or otherwise to increase that $36 billion endowment in the future.

Irish universities have a quite different model for admission. For good or ill, they are governed by a concept of fairness to all citizens of Ireland and that fairness is expressed in terms of the student’s perceived academic ability as measured by the Leaving Certificate examination. In the Irish model, the child of the factory worker is meant to have exactly the same chance of entry as the child of the billionaire property developer, the future poet as the future dot.com entrepreneur, if they have the same academic ability. The model may be skewed by extraneous factors – by money and class – but it is a proper model for a democratic republic.

The introduction to the Irish system of a personal essay by a candidate for admission would be a major additional obstacle in the attempt to provide a fair system of admission. Apart from the ability of money to distort the impartiality of such a system through professional assistance in essay writing and essay purchase on the internet, there are no such things as unbiased professional judges for such essays and no acceptable criteria by which they can be judged – other than by academic ability as measured by an unbiased examination such as the Leaving Certificate.

We have an excellent system. Don’t mess with it! – Yours, etc,

PADDY O’FLYNN,

Rathmines, Dublin 6.

Sir, – While it is true that the majority of students attending universities such as UCD and TCD with very high Leaving Cert entry requirements come from the middle or higher classes, it is not true to infer that those who attain lower points at Leaving Cert level or those from poorer backgrounds are deprived of third-level education in this country. Indeed the development and expansion of the institutes of technology sector over the past 20 years in particular has accounted for ever increasing numbers of students from working class and poorer backgrounds participating very successfully in third-level education and has provided them with opportunities that were never provided to them by the universities prior to this. Indeed, in a recent survey Tallaght IT came second in terms of the employment rate for its graduates relative to other institutes of technology. Many of these students will tell you that they prefer what they perceive as the more supportive environment provided in this sector in comparison with what they perceive as being provided in the corresponding environment in the university sector. – Yours, etc,

Dr CORA STACK,

Lecturer in Mathematics,

Institute of Technology,

Tallaght,

Dublin.