Minister wants to scrap test for medical schools
HEALTH Minister Dr James Reilly wants to axe the controversial aptitude test for those who want to study medicine.
Students who get 600 points in their Leaving Cert have "bloody earned" their right to study medicine, he said.
The minister criticised the Health Professions Admissions Test (HPAT), which thousands of Leaving Cert students will sit next Saturday in exam halls around the country. It was introduced in 2009.
There were concerns at the time that too many high-achievers were opting for a career in medicine based on the number of Leaving Cert points they had scored, rather than on a desire to become a doctor.
Leaving Certificate points are now combined with the HPAT score to select students for medical schools.
Dr Reilly told the Seanad this week that the test was "grossly unfair". He accepted that people who get 600 points are often pushed by their families into studying medicine.
"That can happen," he said, adding: "If such a person wants to study medicine, however, he or she has bloody well earned the right to do so."
The minister made the previously unreported remarks in the Seanad on Wednesday.
Last night a spokeswoman for Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said the HPAT was already being reviewed.
However, Dr Reilly's view that medical school entry should revert to Leaving Cert points alone appears to conflict with Mr Quinn's support in recent months for the Hyland report. It called for changes to be introduced to measure the aptitude of students before they take up certain courses.
HPAT aims to test the student's problem-solving skills, as well as non-verbal reasoning and the ability to understand the thoughts, behaviour and intentions of people.
However, a grinds industry had grown up around it and students who have achieved low marks one year can sit it again and make the grade.
Dr Reilly said he was "prepared to say publicly that all it has done is led to the development of another industry and another course".
He added: "I know of people who failed it the first time but passed it the second time after taking a special course. I want to see it changed."
The Department of Education said it was awaiting the awaiting the outcome of the HPAT review. However, the ultimate decision on whether it stays or it goes lies with the country's medical schools.
Kathleen Lynch, professor of equality studies in UCD said: "Not alone are the tests of doubtful value, they are also a new barrier for lower-income students.
"Proficiency on the tests requires practice and insider knowledge that is only available to those who can buy it."
Senator Sean Barrett, who is a lecturer in economics in Trinity College, said keeping talented people who have got 600 points out of medicine was "not a good idea" in terms of the health service.
A Leaving Cert student who wants to get a place in medical school still needs a minimum of 480 in order to be in contention, while the maximum HPAT score is 300.