Sunday 21 January 2018

'The first step to reforming education in Ireland': Points race slows after major changes to grades

  • More students getting one of their top three choices than ever before
  • Widespread drop in entry points compared to last year
  • 'Less of a lottery' with new system
Pictured with their Leaving Cert results at Maryfield College, Drumcondra today were Megan McCloskey, Amy Connolly and Leah Molloy. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Pictured with their Leaving Cert results at Maryfield College, Drumcondra today were Megan McCloskey, Amy Connolly and Leah Molloy. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

THE points race has slowed down dramatically as a record number of students get first round offers from the CAO.

More of them are getting one of their top three choices than ever before.

This year also has seen a widespread drop in entry points compared to last year and much less use of a lottery for selecting student for certain high demand courses.

One very welcome development is the sharp reduction in wild fluctuations in points required between years.

The good news for students follows the introduction of a new exam grading and CAO scale, which also meant revised entry requirements for some courses, giving some applicants a fairer chance.

TCD vice-provost Professor Chris Morash said: “This year we have seen a bigger pool of eligible applicants coming through the system. I see this as a first step to reforming education in Ireland, and look forward to continuing to find more effective ways for students to enter third-level institutions in Ireland.”

In all, a total of 52,374 applicants are getting offers today.

The overall changes were designed to take the heat out of the chase for a college place, and there is evidence of a slow-down, with some popular course seeing a drop in points.

This is the case even in fields of study where there was an increase in demand for places this year, such as business and law.

Among the business courses where points fell were commerce in UCC down from 460 points to 455; business studies in DCU, down from 470 points to 466; business studies in UL, down from 425 points to 419; and business and management in DIT, is down from 450 to 444 However, commerce at UCD rose five points from 500 to 505, while at TCD, BESS is up from 510 to 520 and business is up from 535 to 544 points.

It is inevitable that with about 80,000 applicants in the hunt for about 50,000 places keen competition saw the points for many courses increase.

Most of these increases were modest, by as little as one point with only a handful going up substantially.

Crucially, 2017 has seen a drop by about a half in the number of courses that had to use random selection to select applicants for places.

Random selection causes huge disappointment because it means that where several applicants are tied on the same points, someone loses out in a lottery for the limited number of places.

One of the goals of the new arrangements was to eliminate or minimise the incidence of random selection and clearly progress has been made.

The reforms brought about an end to the tradition of all points scores ending in multiples of five.

Now, new grades and the way they convert to points mean that students can get any score from zero to 625.

It means that instead of points for CAO courses always moving in multiples of five, any changes, whether up or down, are far more gradual, and this has had the effect of putting a check on dramatic movements in points.

The reform package also includes efforts to reduce the overall number of CAO options, as a further measure to take heat out of the points race.

Currently, there are almost 1,500 individual CAO choices. Colleges have been encouraged to introduce broader first-year programmes, such as common-entry science, with students postponing decisions on specialisation until second year or later.

UCD has reduced its entry routes from more than 90 to 39 in the past decade, and university vice-president Mark Rogers, said last night: “It is clear that students are attracted to the flexibility and choice such routes provide.”

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