University entry in Ireland: decided by lottery?
As long term readers of this blog will know, I am not a fan of the ‘points system’ which determines higher education entry in Ireland. Under this system, eligibility for entry into university programmes is determined by the points score calculated from the results of the final school examination, the Leaving Certificate. The points are a form of currency, and the price for which they provide the payment is determined by the popularity of programmes. The maximum points score is 600, and this or something like it is needed for entry into medicine. Very high points are needed for socially desirable subjects like law. Much lower points are needed – because the subjects are less popular – for engineering or computing. Since these subjects are by no means easier than law, the whole system is crazy. It has encouraged social ambition (particularly parental social ambition) and distorted career choices in Ireland.
Some years ago I suggested in a newspaper article that it would be better to replace the points system with a lottery. My suggestion was that each programme should determine what the minimum points were that were needed to ensure a student would be able to navigate the course successfully; and if there were then more applicants for the programme with the minimum points than there were places, the allocation should be done by lottery. This would be immune to influence and corruption as in the present system, but would not follow the existing framework’s tendency to distort student choice.
At the time my suggestion was criticized severely, and indeed I got very little support. Interestingly however, the Irish Times reports today that the idea has been picked up and recommended for consideration in a report prepared for the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) by retired University College Cork professor Áine Hyland.
Ultimately the reform or abolition of the points system rests with the universities, who own it. It is to be hoped that they will take this particular idea for reform seriously.