CAO: Hike in points sparks call for reform

Further spikes in points for technology, business, and other degrees are increasing pressure on colleges to speed up reform of the third-level entry system.

More than 52,000 applicants are being offered places at 44 colleges this morning by the Central Applications Office (CAO), including more than 39,000 of this year’s Leaving Certificate students. However, an analysis of entry standards shows big jumps for many categories of course yet again this year.

Many of these may be linked to rising demand and improved student results, but focus is turning again to the pace of promised change.

Out of around 870 honours (level 8) degrees directly comparable with last year, nearly 400 or 45% require more points, compared to less than one in three whose points are unchanged.

Some of the biggest rises are for engineering and innovation courses, and degrees in business — which saw increased demand from last year. However, points for science degrees are also mostly higher than a year ago, despite a slight drop in demand since 2014.

NUI Galway’s biomedical engineering degree is up 65 points to 485; University of Limerick’s aeronautical engineering is up 70 to 460. Among rising business degree points are commerce with Italian at University College Cork, up 35 to 415, and a 35-point hike in the threshold for computer science and business at Trinity College Dublin to 500.

The changes may be significantly influenced by further improvements in Leaving Certificate results, as highlighted at the weekend in the Irish Examiner. However, the upward trends will also draw attention to how colleges control points for certain courses by limiting the numbers of places to keep entry standards high.

The universities are expected to announce an agreed approach next month to reducing numbers of entry courses, as a step towards bringing down numbers of high-points degrees, a trend being led by University College Dublin.

However, changes across the system will not take effect until students going into fifth year next week sit the Leaving Cert in 2017, six years after the move was urged at a conference on the impact of the points system on second-level education.

In the meantime, many colleges have increased their course offerings instead of following the route recommended by experts in 2011.

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue said the use of the points system as a marketing tool is shutting out students who should be eligible of those programmes.

“Its prevalence has perpetuated the fallacy that high points courses are more prestigious, which is not always the case,” he said.

“This has exacerbated the points race and has heaped even more pressure on already stressed-out Leaving Certificate students.”

Trinity College Dublin said strong demand for its courses reflects the interest in the type of education it offers, and the continuing prestige of its degrees.

“This year has also seen a helpful corrective to recent increases in the points for many courses, some of which have seen a decrease, and there has been no change for some other courses,” it said.

However, while entry to general arts degrees at most other universities requires 300-350 points, with University of Limerick’s being 425 points, entry to humanities degrees at TCD is far higher. The minimum points for its two-subject moderatorship option range from 390 to 580.

Just over half of the 40,599 people offered a place on a level 8 degree today got their first choice, and are among 32,000 offered one of their first three preferences.

Students have a week to accept their offers, with the next round due to issue on August 27.

Round 1 points for all CAO courses are listed in the 16-page Choices for College supplement inside today’s Irish Examiner, which offers advice on the big issues for those accepting places and for those looking for alternatives to higher education.

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