PLANS to reform the Leaving Certificate and take the heat out of the points race have cleared a major hurdle.
The academic councils of all seven universities have now given their approval to cut the number of courses on the CAO list to which pupils would apply.
The idea was mooted by the Irish Universities Association (IUA) but had to be authorised by senior academics.
The plan is not to reduce choice, but to get away from over-specialisation at the point of entry to college.
It would mean a significant reduction in the number of honours degree, level 8 programmes in arts, business, science and engineering.
First years would enter more broad-based courses and put specialisation off until second year or later.
As it stands, there is a bewildering array of over 1,400 courses from which to choose, up from 385 in 1991.
This increase is most notable in honours degree programmes, which have nearly trebled from 387 in 2000 to 950 this year.
There are a further 450 courses at level 7/6, the categories covering ordinary degrees and higher certificates.
A feature of the CAO expansion is the growth in specialised courses, in which the limited number of places has the effect of driving up points requirements.
Colleges sometimes use niche courses as a marketing tool, but the reality is that students on a high-point, specialised programme often end up in the same lectures with those who entered on a lower-point, more generic course.
Institutes of technology have also committed to review their level 8 programmes.
Reducing the CAO list is one of a number of interlinked measures being planned to take the focus off points, with a view to taking pressure off pupils at second level while also improving the quality of teaching and learning.
The move is part of the first ever shake-up of the CAO. Education Minister Ruairi Quinn intends to phase in changes from September 2014, so students sitting the Leaving Certificate in 2017 would be the first to experience the new system.
Another area prioritised for change is a reduction in the 14-point grading system, A1, A2, B1, B2, B3-NG, which was introduced as a way of minimising random selection of students on similar point scores.
But, while allowing for greater differentiation between applicants, it put undue pressure on pupils to achieve the extra five points that separate most grades, in order to gain advantage.
This, in turn, caused a reliance on "teaching to test", rather than deeper learning.
The third priority area is the removal of problematic predictability, in which pupils narrow their areas of study in the expectation that a certain topic was an exam "banker".