Entry points distorted by small, niche courses

Entry requirements for engineering, science, business, law and architecture saw the biggest increases this year. But CAO points released today also reveal a shift in popularity within niche courses.

Demand for construction was up 100 per cent, architecture up 13.5 per cent, engineering up 5.8 per cent, law is up by 5.5 per cent and business by 4.4 per cent. Points for medicine fell, largely due to changes to the Hpat test, and demand for nursing also slipped.

But these points only tell part of the story because many courses whose demand appears to be growing dramatically only have a handful of places.

There has been renewed criticism this year of how universities and institutes of technology (IoTs) populate CAO lists with narrowly defined “prestige” courses that attract high points because of a very low intake.

Some students and parents feel they should get a course close to the number of points they get in the Leaving Cert or their points are “wasted”. Sometimes students who enter a college via different course codes end up being taught almost the same modules.

Biggest movers

An analysis by The Irish Times shows only 43 of the 900-plus higher degree (level 8) courses listed on the CAO offered 100 or more places last year. In contrast, 329 had 15 or fewer places, and 42 had three or under.

Of the nearly 450 level 6/7 courses listed, only five had more than 100 places. Some 150 had 15 or fewer places and 22 had three or under.

The two biggest courses in the country – arts in UCD and NUIG – which together have more than 2,000 students, who can chose their own subjects on entry, saw no change in points amid solid demand.

Arts in Cork jumped by 10 points but dropped in NUI Maynooth by 10. Among the next biggest courses on the CAO, notable movers were primary teaching at St Patrick’s College Drumcondra (up 5 points); liberal arts at Mary Immaculate College (down 20 points); and UCD courses in science (up 10 points), commerce (up 15) and engineering (up 20 points).

At the other end of the scale, several courses with a very small intake saw huge increases. These included DCU’s Global Business (Germany) which was up 45 points to 475; and Global Business (USA) up 40 to 585. Last year, only 13 places and 10 places were offered on these courses respectively.

Commerce (international) with Chinese Sstudies, with 13 places last year at UCC, rose 35 points to 405. Common entry to computer electronic and communications engineering (10 places) at NUI Maynooth rose by 55 points to 435. Chemistry with molecular modelling at TCD (six places) rose 35 to 505. Among IoTs, some courses with small entry-numbers also leapt in demand. Computing with Cloud and Green Information Technology (eight places last year), at Letterkenny IT, jumped 70 points to 315; Marketing (Digital Media and Cloud Computing), with six places at Dublin Business School, jumped 90 to 335; and Hotel Management (three places), at Tralee IT, jumped 189 to 544.

Universities and IoTs pledged before the summer to review their portfolios “to reduce the complexity of choice and to ensure broader entry programmes into higher education”. UCD deputy president Prof Mark Rogers said it had managed to reduce its CAO routes for school leavers from 56 to 45 and he urged other institutions to do likewise.