Europe

Irish universities to upgrade points value of A-levels

Trinity College, Dublin
Image caption At present, only those who take four A-levels have a realistic chance of getting a place in one of the Republic's top universities

Students from the United Kingdom should soon find it easier to gain entry to Republic of Ireland universities due to change in the admission points system.

From September 2016, the Irish Universities Association (IUA) is set to increase the number of points awarded for most A-level grades.

The change will see the value of a top "A star" A-level grade increase from 150 admission points to 180 points.

It should help to redress a 2005 move that cut the points value of A-levels.

At present, even high-performing A-level students who achieve three "A star" grades in their exams are unable to get a place in many popular university courses in the Republic of Ireland, such as law.

It stems from the fact that most sixth form pupils in Northern Ireland take three A-level exams, whereas school leavers in the Republic of Ireland usually study for least six subjects in their Leaving Certificate exam.

Ten years ago, Irish universities' Central Admissions Office (CAO) points system was revised to help universities on both sides of the Irish border compare the results of the different exam systems.

The 2005 move substantially reduced the number of CAO points awarded for A-levels - to take account of academic opinion that studying six subjects for the Leaving Cert was equivalent in difficulty to taking four, not three, A-levels.

As a result, under the existing points system, the top A-star grade at A-level is worth 150 points, whereas the top A1 grade in a Leaving Certificate subject is worth 100 points.

Therefore a student getting six top grades at Leaving Certificate level will get 600 points, whereas a student getting top grades in three A-levels can only achieve a maximum of 450 points.

For the last decade, it has meant that even if a UK student obtains the highest marks in their three chosen A-level subjects, their CAO points total is well short of the 500+ points required for most prestigious college courses.

The small number of sixth-forms who take four A-levels are the only pupils who have a realistic chance of competing for a place in one of the Republic's top universities.

The IUA, the umbrella body representing all seven universities in the Republic of Ireland, recently carried out a review of undergraduate admissions policies.

It has recommended that the CAO points awarded for an A grade at A-level increase from 135 to 150, while a B grade will rise from 120 points to 130. C grades will not change, remaining at 100 points.

It is hoped that it will help to attract more high-achieving students from Northern Ireland and Great Britain to study in the Republic.

All seven Irish universities are recommending the new system to their academic councils.

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