THE points system for selecting students for college could be replaced by the end of the decade under reform plans being initiated by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn.
Although he acknowledged the fairness of the system operated through the Central Applications Office (CAO), he said it needs to be reviewed as it is designed around the dominant needs of full-time school-leaver entrants.
Almost one-in-three of the 45,000 college places filled through the CAO annually are students who did not sit the Leaving Certificate that year, with a significant rise in numbers applying as mature students or based on further education qualifications.
Mr Quinn said we need a system that caters for a more diverse cohort of students, with new levels and forms of demand for flexible learning and non-traditional routes of entry. He has asked college leaders and others in the higher education sector to give full and frank consideration to the issue in the coming months.
“The pathway into third level is not going to be dominated by Leaving Certificate students coming out of school, there will be mature learners and other students and their entry systems are not as transparent,” he said.
The minister said there is a lack of clarity around application processes and requirements for progressing from one part of the further and higher education systems to another.
Although he has no pre-conceived suggestions of how an overhauled entry system might operate, he said it could involve greater use of modern technology.
Any changes would not be introduced for at least six or seven years, by which time students who go through a planned system of reformed assessments for the Junior Certificate reach the end of their second level education. The minister wants those changes to be progressed to the Leaving Certificate, ensuring students depend less on rote learning and are better equipped for the demands of the third-level system for undergraduates equipped to think and learn independently.
“The benefits of any senior cycle curriculum reform will be undermined if we do not address the demands and pressures that the current points system places on both teachers and students,” he said.
Meanwhile, a group representing people with disabilities in higher education has asked Mr Quinn to review eligibility for thousands of free courses for unemployed people but which exclude those who are receiving disability allowance. AHEAD said many people with disabilities are out of work due to disability or the recession but want to work and avail of educational opportunities available to other unemployed people.
A Department of Education spokesperson said disability allowance recipients are not eligible for the Springboard courses because their circumstances may change and they may be able to return to work in their chosen profession without the need for re-skilling.
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