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Students Should Not Choose Degree Until End of First Year, Says DCU Professor

Incoming first year university students should “not be admitted to a particular degree programme until the end of their first year in college”, according to an Associate Professor in Dublin City University. 

Dr Greg Foley, a historically outspoken Irish academic from DCU’s School of Biotechnology made the statements in a letter to the editor published in Saturday’s edition of The Irish Times. In the letter, he says: “the closing of schools, and the adoption of a predicted grade approach, has had the effect of amplifying inequities and uncertainties within the system.”

The letter comes after the government took the decision to replace the Leaving Certificate with a system of predicted grades in light of the current COVID-19 health restrictions. Minister for Education Joe McHugh last week admitted the State could be opening itself up to legal action from students and parents following the introduction of the new system. 

Dr Foley continues by saying with the introduction of predicted grades, “it seems morally unacceptable to use the current CAO system, where very fine margins determine the immediate future of school-leavers, as the primary means of admission to the universities.

“For a number of years now, the Government and many influential figures in the world of education have advocated for a more generic (non-denominated) system of entry to university.

“While I haven’t always agreed with this viewpoint, I strongly believe that this is the time to take the plunge. What this means, in practice, is that students would not be admitted to a particular degree programme until the end of their first year in college.”

The Associate Professor’s statements suggest a complete overhaul of the college entry process, one that would likely present additional challenges for third level institutions amidst severe financial difficulty. Dr Foley admits that “the logistics of making this change are significant” but concludes that “we owe it to the class of 2020 to give it serious consideration.”

The new system of predicted grades will replace the traditional Leaving Certificate Exams in June. Schools will provide an estimated percentage for each student in a particular subject based on a number of criteria. Data available from the State Examinations Commission on students’ past performance will also be incorporated into grade calculations. 

According to government advice on the new predicted grades system, “research shows that teacher estimates of student performance may be affected by the teacher’s experience and perceptions of the student’s classroom behaviour, or their knowledge about a student’s socio-economic or family background.” The government has advised teachers to be aware of potential biases and flag any conflicts of interest, but the Department of Education has yet to shake worries from students concerned about getting a fair outcome. 

 

Conor Capplis – Editor

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