As universities in the Republic of Ireland begin to look at ways of opening up access to third level places for Northern Irish students, Professor Pól Ó Dochartaigh, newly appointed Registrar and Deputy President of the National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway), has voiced his support for a review of the current admissions criteria, with a view to encouraging more students in the North to move South.
Commenting on the Irish University Association’s decision to initiate a review of admissions criteria for Northern Irish students, Professor Ó Dochartaigh said: “I welcome the universities’ decision here in the Republic to review the current admissions arrangements for A Level students, which make it difficult for many Northern Irish students to consider university in the South as a realistic option. I look forward to seeing a more equitable admissions process emerge as a result of the review”.
“A diverse student population greatly enhances the learning experience for all third-level students. Bringing students together from different backgrounds and learning experiences is advantageous not just for the universities, but for society as a whole. I believe that changes to the system will benefit both the North and the South”, he added.
At present, almost 30 percent of first-year undergraduates from Northern Ireland go to study in England, Scotland and Wales, while only 1.3% go to the Republic. Numbers have fallen since the introduction in 2005 of changes to grade equivalences between A Levels and the Leaving Certificate, which have had the effect of making it more difficult for A Level candidates to gain entry to universities in the South.
With an A Level A grade valued at 150 CAO points, students gaining three As could achieve a maximum of 450 CAO points, compared to a maximum of 600 points for Leaving Certificate candidates. As the majority of Northern Irish students study three, not four, A Levels, the current situation effectively rules A Level students out of a wide range of popular, high points courses in the Republic.
While many Northern Irish students go to university in the UK , the introduction of tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year in England and Wales means that the Republic, where fees will be €3,000 in autumn 2015, has become a more affordable option.
Professor Ó Dochartaigh, who has recently joined NUI Galway from the University of Ulster, has seen at first hand the growing interest from Northern Irish students: “At NUI Galway, we are seeing increasing interest in our courses from students in the North. They know that they will get a good education here but without the escalating tuition costs now associated with universities in England and Wales”.
If the current review delivers much-anticipated changes to the admissions criteria, the imbalance in cross-border student traffic may finally begin to be addressed.