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It's time for us to re-think minumum entry standards

UCC's recent announcement that it is raising its matriculation (or minimum entry) requirements from six Leaving Certificate subjects with at least two grade C3s at higher level to six subjects with at least four grade C3s at higher level from 2014 has provoked some debate.

The debate comes about in the context of the wider discussion in recent times about the CAO points system.

Last year, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn asked the heads of the Irish universities to develop ideas and options around how the current selection for students to higher education could be reformed.

Last month, the heads of Irish universities presented the minister with their report on the reform of selection and entry to university.

They highlighted three specific recommendations that they would like to see progressed: firstly, to reduce the 14 stages of Leaving Certificate results with an eight-stage system, (from two A grades [A1 and A2], split B, C and D grades and grades E, F and NG, to grades A1, A2, B, C, and D grades, and grades E, F and NG).

Secondly, they recommend moving further towards more common entry routes to third-level courses; and thirdly, they recommend incentivising strategically important subjects.

Although the number of college entrants each year comes from increasingly diverse categories, (eg matures, applicants with FETAC qualifications etc), about 78pc of entrants are admitted on the basis of their Leaving Certificate.

Although the perception is that points are all that matter, students must first satisfy minimum entry requirements for any college. In some cases, they must satisfy additional specific subject requirements for entry to certain courses.

Points are the final selection procedure, which come into play when there are more qualified applicants than places available.

The minimum entry requirements for most college courses date from a time when there were more places than applicants. NUI (National University of Ireland) colleges set their minimum entry requirements many years ago at six subjects in the Leaving Certificate with at least two grade Cs on higher level papers, while Trinity set its minimum at six subjects with at least three grade Cs in higher level papers.

These minimum requirements bear so little relationship to the standard required for entry to many courses nowadays that many people wonder do they mean anything.

Are they still considered as the minimum educational standard a student should have achieved in order to perform adequately at third level?

However, as far as points are concerned, even such a relatively modest base could yield reasonable points.

A student could score as little as 140 points with absolutely the minimum entry requirements of two Grades C3s at higher level and four D3s at ordinary level, but equally students could score a maximum of 440 points with all Grade A1s from those two higher levels and four ordinary level papers.

Even though most college applicants take at least four subjects at higher level in the Leaving Cert, it has always been the case that some applicants have the points for a course, but do not satisfy the minimum entry requirements.

Under UCC's new regulations, it is likely that some more applicants will miss out in this way.

Irish Independent