Sean Flynn on College Entry and more manoeuvres by College Bigwigs. I oppose the addition of entry criteria other than the Leaving because I smell the potential for corruption and bias

Universities propose radical changes to college entry system

SEÁN FLYNN, Education Editor

RADICAL CHANGES to the Leaving Cert and the college entry system are
proposed by the seven university presidents in a much anticipated
report which will be given to Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn
today.

The key proposals include a new ranking system where each Leaving Cert
subject would be ranked in relation to its difficulty. The presidents
also propose a reduction in the number of grades awarded in the
Leaving Cert.

They say colleges should roll out more general courses for first year
undergraduates and they back more bonus points schemes for subjects
other than maths.

The report identifies key weaknesses in the Leaving Cert exam. These
are the continued stress on rote learning and the manner in which
students seek out subjects which are seen to be “easier’’.

It acknowledges that the roll-out of too many specialised courses by
the colleges has put upward pressure on points. Mr Quinn has been
critical of the duplication of courses and the high degree of
specialisation especially in arts.

He wants to see colleges offering more general courses for 18-year-old
undergraduates which would reduce the pressure on points and allow
them to sample a wider body of knowledge.

The other key proposals include:

The abolition of the existing 14 Leaving Cert grades (including A1, A2
etc) and their replacement with grades A B and C. The presidents say
the current system makes teaching much too focused on the marking
scheme for each subject – and makes the exam more predictable.

Ranking with subjects rather than absolute grades counting for points.
At present students tend to opt out of subjects like physics and
chemistry which are seen to be difficult.

An extended bonus points system which would be linked to college
choice. Students intent on studying science or arts in college might
get bonus points for relevant subjects.

The paper also proposes that students might matriculate at the end of
fifth year when they could take Irish and English exams and gain entry
requirements for college. But sources say this proposal is not seen as
central to the report.

The report sets out a series of options rather than definitive
proposals. It says the report will lead to a Task Force chaired by
Prof Philip Nolan, president of NUI Maynooth. This will make more
definitive proposals before the end of the year.

Last night, a university source said each of the proposals will need
to be examined in detail before they could be rolled out. “The
introduction of the Hpat for entry to medicine and the new bonus
points system have had unintended consequences. We must avoid that.”
Mr Quinn requested the report last September after a major UCD
conference on the transition from second to third level.

University presidents have been sharply critical of the Leaving Cert,
arguing its leaves many students ill-prepared for self-directed
learning at third level.

Addressing a major conference on undergraduate admissions in May, TCD
provost, Prof Paddy Prengergast, said the college admission system
gives an undue reward to rote learning in the Leaving Cert and
frequently delivers the wrong student to the wrong course. Colleges,
he said, are missing out on students who could thrive, but whose
abilities are not captured by a CAO points total.

In a separate development, Trinity College Dublin is to pilot a
radical new approach where student interviews, personal statements and
teacher references are used for college entry.

The college plans to roll out the approach in the application process
for entry to law in 2014. If successful, its use will be extended to
other high points courses.

Under the new system, Leaving Cert results would still be a key
element in the application process, but the other “more holistic’’
elements would be used to ensure that students take courses which
represent the best ‘fit’ for their skill set.

Thousands of students received the first round of CAO offers
yesterday. By 5pm, 21,639 online acceptances were recorded.

Applicants have until 5.15pm next Monday to accept their offer.