The changes announced this week to the CAO points system are most welcome, simply because anything that has the potential to make the “points race” less of a points race is worthwhile.
That’s why the Editorial Board of The University Times so fervently welcomed the exploring of an alternative admissions system, and why we commended Trinity for “attempting to find an alternative to the accepted status quo of the Leaving Cert”, in introducing a feasibility study that took things other than the raw points total into account.
Three weeks ago, the President of Maynooth University, Prof Philip Nolan – who chairs an Irish University Association task group on third-level entry reform – revealed, through a front-page story in the Sunday Business Post, that universities were “gaming” the points race, supposedly deciding, at some point in the CAO offer process, to hold back on offering places if it meant that the points total would drop below a certain point. So, while universities might be expecting to offer 20 places on a course, only 17 students may receive an offer – simply because the 18th person on the list, if they were offered a place, would bring the advertised points total for the following year below a certain threshold like 500 points. Thus, points for courses remain artificially inflated. There is no doubt that if this type of thing is going on that it is absolutely insidious, and the CAO should force universities to publish – in advance – how many places they intend to offer, and then, afterwards, how many places they did actually offer.
On the same day that Prof Patrick Geoghegan, the project sponsor of Trinity’s admissions feasibility study, wrote in the Irish Independent that Trinity wanted “students who came first in the class, or in the top percentile of their schools, whether that score is 360 or 460 or 560”, he also had to defend Trinity amidst accusations that it was also partaking in the insidious practice of not offering places to inflate points totals. Not only is the juxtaposition a bit uncanny, but it also didn’t make any sense: for several years, Trinity has published how many places it intends to offer in advance, and always fills courses to capacity. Trinity has the opposite problem to other universities, in that its point totals are high no matter what it tries to do, and it is, instead, trying to reduce them, and trying to introduce alternative entry methods.
It is up to Trinity to lead on matters like this, because other universities quickly follow suit. Trinity should continue to push alternative entry methods and should continue at the forefront of making the “points race” less of a points race.