Report on college points system reform plans delayed

Students should find out soon how universities plan to change the college entry points system and help reduce the pressures of the Leaving Certificate.

Ruairi Quinn, the education minister, had been expecting a report from the Irish Universities Association (IUA) by the end of 2012, after they outlined initial proposals last August, but now accepts it may not be ready until early this year.

A taskforce chaired by NUI Maynooth president Professor Philip Nolan was set up to come back with more detail on those plans, which included suggestions that:

* Students be given higher points for some Leaving Certificate subjects, following the awarding of bonus points for higher-level maths in 2012;

* Leaving Certificate grades be changed to A, B, C, etc, instead of A1, A2, B1, B2, B3, etc;

* Assessments other than Leaving Certificate results, such as personal statements or aptitude tests (already in use for entry to medical degrees) to be counted when choosing entrants;

* Graduate entry only for some professional courses.

The proposals were welcomed at the time but parents’ representatives said it was important that changes were made fast.

While some changes might be possible in a year or two, others that might influence subject choices or the levels at which they are studied cannot be introduced until at least 2015 when those starting fifth year next September sit the Leaving Certificate.

An IUA spokesperson said the report of the taskforce chaired by Prof Nolan is substantially advanced but is not yet completed.

“It’s very much in line with what was in our interim report [in August] but doing this right is technical and it’s not trivial,” he said.

In June, Mr Quinn told university chiefs he was disappointed at the delay in putting forward their plans on third-level entry reform. When the interim report was published, the Department of Education said the minister looked forward to getting more detailed proposals and an associated roadmap at the end of 2012.

But his spokesperson said Mr Quinn now looks forward to getting their final report early this year and believes it is better to get the plan right than to rush it, given the impact any changes will have at Leaving Certificate level and on college entrants.

The university deliberations followed a major conference in 2011 of second- and third-level education leaders on ways to improve the transition of students from school to college.

A key focus was the points system which has led to enormous pressures on students to perform well in the Leaving Certificate, although reforms of the two-year senior cycle leading to the exams are also being considered.

The IUA also recommended a move towards more common entry degrees, in which students might start college on a general engineering, science, or other course, rather than choosing their speciality while still in school.

Although this could significantly lower entry requirements, one risk is that the random selection of students for such degrees could leave some high-performers disappointed.

Pilot scheme: TCD to introduce scheme based on other criteria

Trinity College Dublin will announce details in January of a pilot scheme that will see students chosen for some courses based on additional entry standards to their Leaving Certificate results.

The study of new admissions routes for three courses — law, history and ancient and medieval history and culture — will be carried out in partnership with the Central Applications Office which operates the points system on behalf of around 40 colleges.

However, the results of the pilot system are expected to inform the wider university sector as well as any possible changes on entry to TCD.

“The feasibility study is being conducted on behalf of the Irish university sector, and is an attempt to see whether, on a strictly controlled scale, it is possible to develop a better mechanism to identify and admit a diverse student body which is enthusiastic and passionate about learning, motivated and suitable for its chosen courses, and with the academic ability and potential to succeed at third level,” said Patrick Geoghegan, TCD’s dean of undergraduate studies.

The full details of assessments that will be considered for entry to these courses will be outlined on January 14, but Dr Geoghegan said last August that written applications and the schools that students are attending might be taken into account.

Personal testaments in which applicants set out their reasons for applying are used by colleges in many countries. On school background, Dr Geoghegan previously told the Irish Examiner that there is inequity in the system, when some students can afford to attend elite-fee paying schools but others can’t.

“If you’re first in your class in a school in Leitrim, that’s significant, as opposed to someone with the same points who’s 50th in a class at a south Dublin school,” he said.

— Niall Murray

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