With the exception of University College Dublin, universities’ course numbers have risen or are largely unchanged in the nearly three years since the initial agreement that offering fewer but broader general entry courses could help remove the need for school leavers to get top results for places on dozens of degrees.
The figures compiled by the Irish Examiner are based on level 8 degrees offered through the CAO, the numbers of which have jumped from 843 at 43 colleges in 2011 to 953 at 45 higher education institutions this year. However, the majority are offered by the seven universities, and the 579 they will offer places through CAO to Leaving Certificate students this summer is up from 567 in 2011.
In that year, a key recommendation to emerge from the Transitions initiative prompted by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn to change the college entry system was that colleges — and universities in particular, because they have more high-points courses — would offer fewer courses.
Instead, some colleges have increased their offerings — by nearly a quarter at Dublin City University, where level 8 degrees are up from 55 to 68 in three years. NUI Maynooth’s courses have jumped by nearly one fifth to 50, and University College Cork’s 58 level 8 degrees this year are seven more than in 2011.
The increases are a cause of concern in the Department of Education, though Mr Quinn is confident the universities are committed to cutting course numbers.
His spokesperson said: “The minister is disappointed that the number of CAO courses continues to grow. However, through the Transitions initiative, we have secured agreement from university presidents on reducing the number of courses on offer and moving towards broader entry level courses at third level. This is very welcome.”
The universities whose degree courses have increased said they are working collectively through the Irish Universities Association to come up with a system of fewer degrees.
Although degrees at Trinity College Dublin have fallen slightly, its 237 courses account for 40% of all university degrees, and is three times the number offered through next-highest Dublin City University and University of Limerick. They are mostly made up of separate course choices for CAO applicants pursuing arts degrees, which allow them choose their two key subjects when applying for entry.
Under this system, students needed 530 points last year to guarantee English and history as their main subjects at TCD, or over 500 points to combine economics and another subject. Entry to arts required just 335 points at UCC, or 340 points at UCD.