Myths about the CAO system

It is desperately frustrating to hear, year after year, the same nonsense being spoken about the Leaving Cert and the CAO system. So let’s try to expose (yet again!) some of the myths.

Myth 1

By offering courses with a small number of places, institutions are adding to the ‘heat’ in the CAO system thus causing extra stress for young school leavers.

Why this is a myth?

In fact, the majority of courses with low intake also have low entry points and most of these low-intake courses are in the IoT sector. (About two thirds of courses with an intake of 10 or fewer students have points below 350.) The low intake and the low points are a direct consequence of very low demand and the real ‘crisis’ in the CAO system is that the IoT sector is offering large numbers of Level 8 courses that nobody wants to do.

 Myth 2

By introducing broad entry, some of the heat will be taken out of the system.

Why this is a myth?

Contrary to what is commonly believed, the CAO system is not a simple supply-and-demand one. The relationship between supply and demand is seriously complicated by (i) the prestige of the institutions, (ii) the herd mentality and (iii) points inflation. For example, despite the huge class sizes, common entry to science in UCD has required more than 500 points in recent years while common entry to engineering in UCD, despite having the largest intake of any engineering course in the country, also has the highest entry points.

Furthermore, it is quite likely that points for construction-related courses will rise this year for the simple reason that students are once again seeing these disciplines as providing greatly improved career opportunities. As the herd moves around, the points follow. In other words, demand is extremely volatile.

Finally, it is worth noting that in 2008, about 15,000 students scored 400 or more points in the LC. By 2015, this number had increased to 20,000. At the same time, the number of students scoring <400 points remained essentially static. (This is a trend that predates the introduction of bonus points for maths.)

Myth 3

Broad entry will allow students to make more mature decisions about their specialisation of choice

Why this is a myth?

Unless an institution can guarantee all students a place in their specialisation of choice at the end of first year, broad entry will lead to a highly pressurised first year. In effect the pressure of the Leaving Cert will be transferred from school to college. As a passing comment, it is absolutely essential that colleges who are publicly advocating the increased use of broad entry should be open and transparent about how exactly they intend to allocate students to the various specialisations. And they also need to reassure students that if places are guaranteed, the quality of those specialised courses will not be compromised should the numbers be unexpectedly high.


About Greg Foley

A lecturer in Biotechnology in Dublin City University for more than 25 years. Trained as a Chemical Engineer in UCD (BE and PhD) and Cornell (MS). Does research on analysis and design of membrane filtration systems.
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3 Responses to Myths about the CAO system

  1. Pingback: Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Myths about the CAO system

  2. menv says:

    Yes, I share your frustration. We can try applying critical thinking to today’s piece on UCD and Maynooth in the IT. Maybe the numbers of applicants have gone up reflecting that the numbers of CAO applicants are up about 5000 from 2013 – nothing to do with changes in entry options.

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