Colleges fail to cut course numbers

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan is satisfied with third-level colleges’ changes to entry systems, despite most having failed so far to significantly reduce course numbers from which Leaving Certificate students can choose.

As highlighted by the Irish Examiner last week, there are still more than 1,000 honours (level 8) degrees to pick from at the seven universities and 14 institutes of technology.

In 2011, when a ‘Transition’ conference of education groups recommended fewer courses to help reduce high points requirements, there were 843 level 8 degrees offered at 43 colleges through the Central Applications Office (CAO). But that had risen to 953 at 45 colleges a year ago.

The aim of the measure was to shift the focus in fifth and sixth year from ‘teaching-to-the-test’, to maximise grades and CAO points, back to learning and understanding curriculum content.

The Department of Education said the Transition reform process is still under way and discussions are ongoing between the partners involved on designing a package of related measures.

“The minister is satisfied that there is good engagement with the reform process and understands that structural changes to programmes can take time to work through,” a spokesperson said.

She said the minister particularly commends University College Dublin (UCD) and Maynooth University (MU) for showing leadership in the university sector to offer prospective students new exciting opportunities for a broader undergraduate experience.

UCD is the only university to significantly reduce the number of entry routes, with level 8 CAO codes open to school leavers down from 56 in 2011 to 43 this year. MU’s entry routes will be cut by almost half next year to around 22, but other universities are not expected to follow suit until 2017.

Higher Education Authority figures published by the Irish Examiner last week show the number of level 8 degrees in the institutes has jumped from 355 in 2012 to 408 this year. Only Athlone and Tallaght institutes of technology have fewer open for application through CAO this year than in 2012.

The department said the institutes of technology are also working towards the commitments made in an interim report two years ago on steps to be taken on foot of the 2011 Transition conference. “The minister expects to see significant changes in the coming few years that will make a strong contribution to providing a much smoother transition from second level into higher education,” the spokesperson added.

Another key recommendation from the Transition process was an examination of predictability in the Leaving Certificate, but research to date has found it is not an issue of major concern, although there were some elements of problematic predictability. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has recommended a new grading system, with bands of 10% instead of the current 14 bands which are mostly separated by just 5%.

The department said that progress is also expected on providing more coherent academic planning and provision in the developing regional clusters, which involve partnerships between neighbouring third-level institutions.

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