Wednesday 28 September 2016

We want students who top their class, whether they get 360, 460 or 560 points

Patrick Geoghegan

Published 17/08/2015 | 06:00

'In Trinity, we are excited about getting in students who came first in the class, or in the top percentile of their schools, whether that score is 360 or 460 or 560'
'In Trinity, we are excited about getting in students who came first in the class, or in the top percentile of their schools, whether that score is 360 or 460 or 560'

Today, Trinity College Dublin offered 25 places to students who had applied to us through our feasibility study in admissions, and they will begin next month on three of our most popular courses. Some students were admitted on up to 85 points less than the final score (Law), some on up to 65 less (Ancient and Medieval History and Culture), and some on up to 135 points less (History), but they had all demonstrated their academic ability, potential, and suitability for the course in other ways.

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This is the second year of our admissions feasibility study, an attempt to see whether it might be possible to go beyond a crude points total in admitting students with the ability and potential to thrive at third-level. So far, it has been a complete success. The students we admitted last year may have come in on fewer points than their classmates, but they matched them in intellect, enthusiasm, and ability, and Trinity has been a better place for their presence.

Days like today are an opportunity to celebrate stories of achievement - not just of these students, but of all those who have been offered places - rather than boasting about rising points scores for courses. We all know it's a rotten game, and the universities should refuse to play it. At Trinity, we are proud of the quality of all the students we admit, regardless of their points score, and regardless of the route through which they were admitted.

The feasibility study uses three calculations in a completely anonymous process. We look at Leaving Certificate results, we look at a personal statement, and we look at the Relative Performance Rank (RPR) of the students, in other words, how well a student did in the Leaving Certificate compared to the rest of their classmates. Some students think about applying in January, but then do not submit the supplementary information, so the process in itself is a useful way of identifying those with the determination and ambition to do something extra.

The personal statement becomes a qualifier, but the real determining factor is the RPR. This year at Trinity, we had one student who received 460 points and came top of their class. That student was offered a place on their chosen course. A case can be made that 460 points for that student is a more meaningful achievement that the student on 500 points who comes in the bottom half of their class.

This year, despite the number of applications remaining high, the process was far easier to administer, with the RPR calculated instantly. This is thanks to the work of our colleagues at the CAO, and their expertise has made the whole process a very efficient (and very cost-efficient) operation. They have been superb partners over the past two years, and their work has shown that a mechanism like RPR can be used with very little cost or effort.

In Trinity, we are excited about getting in students who came first in the class, or in the top percentile of their schools, whether that score is 360 or 460 or 560, and we see great potential for using RPR in the future.

The feasibility study has been extended for another year, and we are interested in modifying the system next year to test different things. It is exciting work, and we are not afraid of being innovative.

We have been encouraged in this by the support of the Minister for Education, Jan O'Sullivan, who praised the new route in an interview with Trinity's student newspaper, The University Times, last year, as well as the support of her Department.

But, most of all, we have been inspired by the support of our students.

Although the majority of them benefited from the current system, they still support the attempts to find a fairer and better way of admitting students.

The feasibility study is in its early days, and there remains a lot of work to be done, but today we celebrate with our new students, and we share their excitement about the future.

Professor Patrick Geoghegan is the Project Sponsor of the Trinity Admissions Feasibility Study. The interim report on the first year of the study can be found at: www.tcd.ie/undergraduate-studies.

Irish Independent

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