Universities keen to attract students from North
UNIVERSITIES in the Republic are exploring ways of making it easier for Northern Ireland students to gain access.
The numbers have fallen since the introduction of a system designed to help universities on both sides of the Border compare the results of Leaving Cert and A-Level candidates.
It had the unintended consequence of making it difficult for the vast majority of northern students to gain entry to the seven universities here.
Under the changes introduced in 2005, a Leaving Certificate A1, which is worth 100 points in the CAO, is valued at two-thirds the A level's 150 points.
But while Leaving Cert students in the Republic sit at least six subjects, most A-Level candidates in the North take three, which caps their points potential at 450, rather than 600.
It means that northern students are ruled out of a consideration for a wide variety of popular courses, in areas such as law and psychology, which tend to have cut-offs at around 500 or higher. The move to review the entry requirements is driven by a desire not to close the door to talented cross-border students, while also enhancing north-south relations.
Many northern students go to the UK, but the introduction of tuition fees of up to £9,000 (€10,900) now makes the Republic a more affordable option.
The review is being undertaken by an Irish Universities Association (IUA) working group under Professor Philip Nolan, president of NUI Maynooth, which is also dealing with wider issues around the CAO and college entry.
With record and growing demand in the 26 countries for third-level education, the review will have to take on board any potential concerns that Leaving Cert candidates will not be squeezed out. However, there is an imbalance in cross-border student traffic.
While students from the North make up only about 1pc of undergraduates in the Republic, students from here account for up to 7pc of places in the North.
Professor Pol O Dochartaigh, who is joining NUI Galway as registrar/deputy-president from the University of Ulster, supports a change in admissions criteria to encourage students in the North to move south.
He said it was better for society as a whole for universities to have a diverse student population and it also contributed to a better third-level experience. "This will be of benefit to both the North and the South", he said.
Apart from the admissions rules, teachers and students are also critical of the fact that universities in the South do not recognise many of their subjects, particularly applied subjects, although the Northern Ireland Education Board requires that one-third of the subjects offered by some schools fall into this category.