SPEAKING of the need to consider alternatives to the current admissions system, over a year ago, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn called on the sector to "apply international benchmarks" and develop "possible options for change", recognising that the universities had autonomy over the admissions system operated by the CAO.
Trinity College Dublin this week launched a feasibility study in admissions, in partnership with the CAO, to test a new admissions route to see if there might be a better and a fairer way of admitting students with the academic ability and potential to thrive at third level.
In developing this study we have been careful to apply international best practice.
Two of the three scales being used in the feasibility study are directly related to the Leaving Certificate, reflecting our confidence in its international reputation.
The first is Leaving Certificate results themselves, the second is the Relative Performance Rank (RPR) of the student – the performance of the applicant in the Leaving Certificate relative to other applicants from that school – and the third scale is the personal statement which will allow for contextual data and broader experiences to be assessed.
The intention is that these three scales will combine to provide a fair and a better way of assessing a student's ability and potential by taking the widest possible perspective – a system known as holistic admissions. The new route will be administered by the Central Applications Office (CAO), and will be anonymous.
The new admissions route will begin next year. It will only apply on three courses (history, law, and ancient and medieval history and culture), and just a small number of places on each course will be filled.
This is a carefully designed feasibility study to see if there is a better way of doing things, with the results shared across the third-level sector.
The twin aspirations of a courageous education minister, and an Irish university president who was prepared to lead on the issue, may bring about an historic reform of the Irish education system.
Dr Patrick Geoghegan is the Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Trinity College Dublin