Saturday 21 September 2019

Deadline looming for Leaving Cert students to pursue an upgrade

Thousands will be pondering their prospects - and even  if they can take up precious offers of third-level courses

Happy day: Kate Doran from Killiney, Co Dublin and Emma Hughes of Ballybrack savour their Leaving Cert results
Happy day: Kate Doran from Killiney, Co Dublin and Emma Hughes of Ballybrack savour their Leaving Cert results
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

It's been a rollercoaster week for 58,787 Leaving Cert candidates, and it's not over yet for many of them.

It was a results season with a difference: students had their grades a day earlier than usual, followed two days later by CAO offers.

It cut out a weekend of worrying about whether the desired college place would materialise, although many believe it has compounded the impression the sole purpose of the Leaving Cert is to act as a selection mechanism for higher education.

The new timetable followed last year's High Court action by Co Wexford student Rebecca Carter, who railed against having to wait until mid-October for the result of her recheck - she was certain she would win - when UCD was closing the entry gates on September 30.

Mr Justice Richard Humphreys agreed: her appeal was speeded up, she started her dream course in veterinary on October 1 and he ordered the State Examinations Commission (SEC) to accelerate the appeals process, from 2019 on.

It did, and any exam candidate seeking a recheck this year will know the outcome by mid-September. But six of the seven universities - University of Limerick being the exception - say they will "do their best", and are not giving a guarantee that all such students will gain entry in 2019.

It depends on the course, and, in the case of UCD, for instance, another Rebecca Carter may not be admitted to veterinary this year.

The same could be true of courses such as medicine and architecture.

The Department of Education responded last night, stating it and the SEC had "worked hard and invested heavily for the benefit of students who want to appeal a result and secure their course of choice as quickly as possible, and that objective still stands. If we have to do more to get there we'll keep working with universities and colleges."

Thousands of students will be pondering their upgrade prospects over the days ahead - those who have applied to do so can view their scripts on Tuesday/Wednesday, while Thursday is the deadline for applications.

But there is no definitive answer to the biggest question on their minds: "If I get a better offer will I have a place on the course, not next year, but next month?"

Last year, more than 5,000 students appealed and it resulted in more than 300 new CAO offers.

Second-level education is full of hard-working and ambitious students who do what is asked of them: study hard, get your points - and you will be rewarded with a place in college and then a job.

The evidence was there in spades when the results came out on Tuesday. More students aiming higher and taking papers at "honours" level.

What has happened in maths in less than a decade is extraordinary. Some 33pc of candidates sat the "honours" paper this year, double what it was in 2011, driven by a demand from business and industry and higher education for higher maths competency levels.

Students have, of course, been "bribed" with the promise of 25 bonus points for a minimum 40pc mark; on the other hand, there is a recognition higher level maths takes a lot of study time.

Business, industry and higher education are a lot happier than they were decade ago. Offers for honours degree engineering courses, where a particular standard in higher level maths is a pre-requisite, were up 10pc this year.

Leaving Cert candidates also heeded the calls for more graduates with language skills and there was a 30pc rise in offers to such courses this week. Clearly, the staffing crisis in second-level schools hit home with students with a 16pc bump up in offers for post-primary teaching courses.

The maths bonus came into play with an unprecedented points cut-off of 601 for the BSc in Economics and Finance in UCD because there were so many eligible applicants with at least 600 points, the traditional CAO ceiling.

So is 625 to become the new 600? Although Leaving Cert achievement levels generally are in line with previous years, this year 781 candidates bagged 600 or more points - almost 100 more students than last year.

What also emerged this week was that, despite various warnings over the years they may have to cap Irish student numbers if pre-recession funding levels were not restored, universities have responded to the surging demand for honours degrees by opening more places. A number said they had made a record number of offers.

The flipside of that is the decline in demand, and then offers, for ordinary degree/higher certificates courses, (Level 7/6) provided principally in the institutes of technology.

It raises questions for that sector and also for students who would be better served entering a Level 7/6 and seeing where that takes them, but who are not being properly guided to those choices.

And there were also more than 11,000 who didn't apply to the CAO. How are they all faring?

Irish Independent

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