Some time ago the IUA set up a task group to examine the broad issue of entry to third level education. One of the numerous stated aims of that group is to reduce the number of denominated programmes in the CAO system. I have an open mind about the whole concept but I think we should be careful about how we ‘lump’ disciplines together.
Take ‘science’ for example. Science is a very broad term covering everything from physics to microbiology (no hierarchy being suggested here!). While these disciplines share a common philosophy – the scientific method – they require very different skills and aptitudes. There may be many students who are equally interested in both disciplines but the opposite is likely to be true also.
I think we need to know more about the choices students are making. For example, have students who have entered a biology programme in one institution prioritised alternative biology programmes in other institutions on their CAO forms? In other words, is there a substantial population of second level students out there who know exactly what they want to study and who are currently well served by a system that offers the opportunity for denominated entry. I suspect that there is from my experience at careers fairs.
We need to cater for this population and not become obsessed with generic entry in order to simplify the CAO system in the hope that it leads to better quality learning at second level.
We need a mixed system but limited capacity means that whatever system we devise, students will have to compete with each other and some, many perhaps, will be disappointed either at Leaving Cert stage or within the third level system itself.