University chief: CAO system unfairly increases prestige of high-points course

Over 55,000 students are due to receive their Leaving Cert results on Wednesday

The CAO system mistakenly gives students the impression that high-point courses are of higher quality than others, a university president has warned.

Third-level colleges have been accused in the past of artificially raising points by offering a high number of specialised courses.

Professor Philip Nolan said universities should prioritise a more flexible education model that encourages critical thinking.

The current system has helped to "create a fallacy of prestige" around high-point courses that only increases pressure on students, he said.

"It is completely untrue to say that high points automatically mean a course is of a higher quality or that lower points courses are less worthwhile.

"This myth has been allowed to perpetuate. If all universities adopt a broad entry approach, the beneficial impact on Leaving Certificate students will be immense."

NUI Maynooth is offering 35 entry-route courses this year, compared to more 50 in 2015.

As part of the university’s new curriculum, students have the choice to specialise immediately or explore options across a range of disciplines in their first year.

Mr Nolan said the restructured syllabus points to the need for "adaptable, critical thinkers" who can tackle a variety of challenges in their working lives.

"These broader entry routes give students more time to make the best decisions for their future, while also addressing the pressure students feel from the points race, and the rote learning and ‘studying to the exam’ which results," he said.

A survey of 1,500 senior-cycle students conducted by the university at the start of the academic year showed that 62% did not know what kind of career they wanted to pursue. 

Mr Nolan's remarks come as over 55,000 students await their Leaving Cert results on Wednesday.