Sunday 25 September 2016

What a remarkable admission about Trinity admissions

John McAvoy

Published 27/08/2015 | 06:00

'Trinity no longer wants the brightest students in the country; it wants only the brightest in particular schools'
'Trinity no longer wants the brightest students in the country; it wants only the brightest in particular schools'

In the Irish Independent of August 17, Prof Patrick Geoghegan of Trinity College is quoted as saying: "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."

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What an admission. Trinity no longer wants the brightest students in the country; it wants only the brightest in particular schools. I am sure the other higher education institutions will be delighted to accept the high-fliers Trinity has decided to ignore.

While Trinity may be excited, how excited are the 25 students who worked extremely hard for two years but who have been deprived of a place?

Their place has been taken by someone who submitted an essay and who was lucky enough to go to a particular school where their fellow students were not as academically bright as themselves. If you were unfortunate enough to go to a school where your fellow students happened to be as bright as you, then Trinity seems to believe there is something lacking in you.

The professor continues: "Some students were admitted on points less than the final score . . . but they had all demonstrated their academic ability, potential and suitability for the course in other ways."

This is nonsense. Their academic ability was demonstrated by their Leaving Cert results, like every student in the country. As regards the assessment of "potential and suitability", Trinity has not the slightest evidence that this is even possible. Their "assessment" consists of a fortune teller's brew of fantasy, with students being plucked from Trinity's hat.

"The feasibility study uses three calculations. 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."

Trinity's own review of the procedure last year showed that the personal statement was of no value because it could not identify differences between students.

"The bunching of applications in the middle could lead to legitimate concerns about whether the process was worth all the time and effort involved," it concluded.

And that is the considered view of those in Trinity who made the "assessment" of the personal statement.

In addition, Prof Aine Hyland, who is an external assessor on this project, stated publicly on radio that she was not at all convinced by the Relative Performance Rank and could see major problems for schools. Even some of the students who were admitted on this system last year had reservations about it.

In spite of all this, Trinity is determined to sail on, making statements that appear at odds with the facts that stare them in the face.

"This is the second year of our admissions feasibility study. So far, it has been a complete success."

What success? That they admitted students? That the students they admitted are happy? That they sacrificed very bright students on the altar of novelty?

"Days like today are an opportunity to celebrate stories of achievement 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."

I imagine, therefore, that Trinity refused to play the rotten game when it published the required points on August 17. For the three courses in question, I assume that it was the points score of the last students admitted under this scheme that were published? After all, it would hardly be correct to show instead the higher scores of those admitted on points alone. The published points are supposed to show the lowest score for entry.

For example, the published points for Law are 540. Is this the score of the last student admitted under this scheme? Perhaps the professor would confirm exactly what the published scores for these three courses represent?

"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 than the student on 500 points who comes in the bottom half of their class."

But the case has not been made. In fact, as shown above, Trinity's own external assessor was not convinced, nor were some of the students who were admitted last year on this system Nevertheless, "in Trinity, we see great potential for using RPR in the future".

Who sees the great potential?

This experiment conducted at the expense of hard-working students has gone on for too long. It should be ended.

John McAvoy is former head of the CAO

Irish Independent

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