Fewer courses a boon for Maynooth

Maynooth University claims that having fewer entry courses for Leaving Certificate students is the reason for its increase in popularity this year.

A limited number of courses, rather than very specialised degrees at third-level, was proposed by experts in 2011 to ease the intensive ‘points-race’ for school-leavers, which has a major influence on teaching at second-level.

So far, most third-level colleges have done little to pursue the recommendation, although all seven universities committed, last year, to reducing by 2017 their choice of entry codes on Central Applications Office (CAO) forms.

The first round of CAO offers for this year’s school-leavers will issue next Monday, based on Leaving Certificate results to be received by 55,000 students on Wednesday.

Maynooth’s number of courses on the CAO has dropped from 45, in 2014, to less than 30 this year.

Students still have the choice to specialise immediately, but have more scope to explore options across a range of disciplines in first-year and to specialise later.

The changes are due to the ‘collapsing’ of numerous entry-course titles in the same discipline into a single CAO code.

For example, six different business courses last year have been reduced to just one in 2016. Similarly, the six CAO courses in anthropology, English, history, and politics have all been subsumed into an ‘arts omnibus’ option.

MU president, Professor Philip Nolan, said a 3% increase, to 3,710, in the number of students picking any one of the college’s degrees as their first preference is a result of the new system.

It compares favourably to a 2% rise (to a record 71,622) in all applicants for honours (level 8) degrees being filled by the CAO this year.

“We piloted this in some areas last year and saw increased interest from students. They seem to find it more attractive to having many more denominated entry routes,” he said.

Prof Nolan said that this, and rising first-preference applications to University College Dublin, which has led the way on reducing CAO entry routes, is a sign that this is how all colleges should be moving.

“It’s understandable, if some institutions are delayed in delivering the commitment to reduce entry routes by 2017, if they have encountered some logistical problems,” he said.

“The experience of those of us who have moved already should encourage others, but it’s essential to follow up the commitment, even if it takes a bit longer, and not to renege from their commitment,” said Prof Nolan.

Maynooth University is also extending the offering of a module in critical skills to all first-year students, so that they can develop analytical and communication skills.

Feedback from more than 200 students who signed up to a pilot programme last year showed that the skills they learned helped them in their other modules.

“One of the great things about this course is that students have an opportunity to work with their peers from different fields to address complex problems from a number of distinct perspectives,” Prof Nolan said.

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