Number of college courses continues to rise

The number of courses being offered by third-level colleges continues to rise despite plans in 2011 to cut them and help end the Leaving Certificate points race.

Number of college courses continues to rise

For more than 74,000 people who have registered this year with the Central Applications Office (CAO), there are now over 1,000 honours (level 8) degrees to choose from. The 599 available from universities and 408 at institutes of technology represent 49 more than the 958 offered by those 21 colleges in 2012

The previous year, stakeholders agreed at a conference on easing the transition from second level to third level that the number of CAO entry routes for school leavers needed to be reduced, but particularly at universities. The idea was two-fold, but the main aim was to have fewer degrees with such limited numbers of places that only those with some of the very highest Leaving Certificate results were eligible.

However, figures from the Higher Education Authority show that University College Dublin (UCD) has been the only one of seven universities where there has been a constant reduction year-on-year in entry routes for application through CAO, down from 60 in 2012 to 50 this year.

University of Limerick (UL) has 71 CAO codes in 2015, down two in three years. Maynooth University (MU) has reduced the level 8 degrees offered through CAO from 50 to 44 this year, and plans to bring that down nearer to 20 next year.

But the number of entry routes at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) is 248, five more than last year and still higher than in 2012, as applicants for most of its arts and humanities programmes must choose their two subjects even before accepting or registering for places.

Entry through that two-subject route at TCD required at least 450 CAO points out of a maximum 625 for anyone who included at least one of half the 24 subjects covered. This automatically limits entry to the top 20% of Leaving Certificate students, but many combinations required 550-plus points, while about half of TCD’s other non-nursing degrees only admitted students with at least 500 points.

The options at University College Cork are up from 59 to 63 since 2012, and the 67 CAO codes at Dublin City University (DCU) in 2015 are an increase of seven in three years. There are 56 level 8 CAO options at NUI Galway in 2015, one fewer than in 2012.

The numbers include some degrees at all universities that are open to mature students, and small numbers restricted to entry for graduates.

The HEA said it supports the reduction of numbers of level 8 degrees and it also welcomes the initiative announced by Maynooth University. As well as halving its CAO entry codes from next year, the Co Kildare university plans to offer students the chance to pick subjects across different faculties as part of a broader curriculum.

“This approach was agreed over three years ago following the joint HEA/National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) initiative on transitions. It is in the learner’s best interest to have as broad a first-year experience as possible,” said a HEA spokesperson.

Maynooth University president Philip Nolan, who chairs the Irish Universities’ Association taskforce, said there is a long process in making the changes but he is optimistic that the other six universities will follow Maynooth’s lead with far fewer CAO entry codes in 2017.

“This reform required that everybody changes their behaviour and culture together, and that always leads to protracted negotiations. This is a long process and I am going to stick at it,” he said of the IUA taskforce’s work.

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