A feasibility study was launched last Monday, January 14th at the Royal Irish Academy as part of the Irish Universities Association’s (IUA) on-going discussions on reform of the selection and entry to university in the context of National Educational Policy.
Trinity College Dublin has launched a pilot entrance scheme which is broadly similar to the UCAS system in the United Kingdom. Instead of basing entry to a University course solely on Leaving Certificate points, this scheme aims to test the viability of using other factors such as a personal statement and their Relative Performance Rank in relation to other students in their school. The pilot scheme will run for two years on a small allocation of places in three courses in the University.
This is just one of the entrance schemes being discussed by the IUA Taskforce group, which is made up of representatives from all seven universities in Ireland. UCD’s former Registrar Philip Nolan, who is now President of the National University of Ireland Maynooth chairs the Task Force group, while UCD’s current Registrar, Mark Rogers, sits on the committee.
The group is also considering a number of other options, not limited to assessing how much a Leaving Certificate grade should count for points, and whether the first year of University should remain as it is, or whether it should be a broader year in which students can sample a number of courses before specialising, somewhat similar to the American system.
UCD Students’ Union Education Officer Shane Comer sits on a subcommittee of the IUA Task Force along with a number of UCD’s academics, and he believes that these discussions are long overdue. He commented that: “It’s been shown in the past that the points system is not the best method as an entrance mechanism into third level education… For fifth and sixth years, filling out the CAO is a very daunting time. The majority of people at that age don’t know what they want to do so having to narrow down your choices to say Commerce, or Science or Law, at that early stage in your career isn’t the best option, so this entire review is wholly necessary.”
While Trinity’s feasibility scheme is the focal point of these discussions at the moment, Comer believes it is only a matter of time before UCD will trial an alternative entry scheme as well, “with UCD being the largest University in the country”. However, no specifics for such a scheme have been set in stone yet, and according to Comer, “a lot of universities are waiting to see how the Trinity one works out.”
There has been some issues with a number of Irish universities favouring the current scheme, however Comer believes that when a new admissions system is chosen, it will apply across all higher education institutions across Ireland. He commented that: “That discussion is on-going, but it’s looking like this will be from a national standpoint. The IUA can’t make this decision by themselves; the institutions of technology across the country, the colleges of further education have to be on board, too.”
While no change will occur for CAO applicants for 2013/2014, aside from the three courses in the Trinity pilot scheme, the IUA Task Force should be presenting its report to the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education in the next number of weeks. According to Comer, the IUA will present its recommendations in its report, noting some of the best channels available, however there will be no “concrete decisions” in the report.