UCD only college to significantly cut course options

Maynooth University president Philip Nolan and Jan O'Sullivan, the education minister, at the recentlaunch of his institution's undergraduate curriculum and reform initiative.

Latest figures on CAO entry-level courses show the slow pace of change, but should not come as a shock.

A similar comparison a year ago by the Irish Examiner, which counted only courses open for applications from Leaving Certificate students, showed that the numbers rose by 13 to 68 since 2011 at DCU, by eight up to 50 at Maynooth University (MU), and from 51 to 58 at UCC.

Only UCD had significantly reduced its course offerings since 2011, a pattern it had already begun before then to offer more generic entry routes for school-leavers, such as engineering or science.

Launching his college’s reform initiative last week, MU president Philip Nolan also spoke about the wider work in the sector through an Irish Universities’ Association taskforce he has chaired for several years.

“Broader entry routes require colleges to make changes in their first year [programmes], you have to get everybody to implement that and on the same timescale, and significant internal changes are needed,” he told the Irish Examiner.

The principle put forward at the 2011 Transitions conference was that offering students fewer entry routes into higher education would allow them choose more specific subjects for later years of their undergraduate study, and not while they are still at school.

By so doing, many experts argue, there would be fewer CAO codes with limited numbers of places that can push up the Leaving Certificate points because of supply and demand rules. The consensus among education figures is that this rising number of level 8 courses — from 458 to 919 from 2002 to 2013 — has helped enforce an emphasis in schools on rote learning to maximise grades just for CAO points.

Efforts to address rote learning prompted a review for the State Examinations Commission, but it found predictability was not a major concern in the Leaving Certificate.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has recommended that 14 sub-grades (like A1, A2, B1, B2, B3) be replaced by a system of 10 grades, each 10% apart. The aim would be to ease pressure for every mark in exams just to reach the next 5% sub-grade and the linked rise in CAO points.

Meanwhile, as revealed by the Irish Examiner yesterday, growing numbers are not listing any courses on their initial CAO applications. The numbers in this category have jumped by 25% to more than 6,000 in a year, blamed by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors on cutbacks in schools restricting the one-to-one advice many of its members can offer students.

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