Dramatic surge in CAO points

Image Credit: Dominic Daly

CAO points have seen a significant surge for courses across the country. As with the national trend, many courses in UCD have undergone a dramatic rise in points.Midwifery saw the most significant rise, having increased by 80 points to 489. Social Policy and Sociology had the second-highest increase with a 48 point rise to 378, this was followed by Children’s & General Nursing which increased by 47 points. Other courses which saw a dramatic rise in points include Physiotherapy, Veterinary Medicine, Veterinary Nursing, Law, Business and Law, Radiography, Engineering, Architecture, Economics, Social Sciences, Commerce, Biomedical, Health and Life Sciences, Food Science, Agricultural Science, City Planning & Environmental Policy.

Two courses at UCD are now above 600 points: Economics and Finance, and Actuarial and Financial studies. Several courses such as Humanities and Modern Languages went down in points, although this may be due to increased course capacity.

UCD increased the first-year capacity by 7% this year, creating 292 new places. This increase was in response to the predicted grading system, and a surge in demand. Over 9,000 CAO applicants placed UCD as their first preference this year. Engineering underwent the largest capacity increase with 54 new spaces, this was followed by Arts with 35 new places, and Social Sciences with 25 new places. Humanities, Science, Commerce, Psychology, Computer Science, Veterinary Medicine, and Economics also saw a significant increase in course capacity. 

The increase in course capacity means some courses which rose sharply in points also have more space. Social Policy and Sociology increased by 48 points, and 20 new places have been created. Engineering increased by 20 points, and 54 places were added. Commerce increased by 23 points with 14 places added. Veterinary Medicine and Economics also had a simultaneous increase in course capacity and points.

The CAO 2020 results were released on the 11th of September, and the full effects of the results have yet to be revealed. Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris claims approximately 78% of students received an offer from one of their top three choices. However, many students have still been left disappointed, as due to grade inflation and the subsequent point increase they did not achieve their first preference. 

Students who have been particularly negatively affected are reapplicants to the CAO. They did not benefit from grade inflation but suffered from the point increase. This contrasts against students who deferred their course, and who will now achieve their course on points, which in some cases are 100 fewer than the course now requires. 

Ronan Cloney, a student from Wexford who completed his Leaving Certificate in 2019 spoke to The University Observer about his situation as a reapplicant to the CAO. Last year Cloney made the difficult decision to leave his course and reapply for the CAO in 2020. Cloney described his “one reassurance” during this time was the knowledge that the points for the course he planned to apply for “never went above” the points he had obtained. As the year progressed Cloney became worried about the likely disadvantage for CAO reapplicants who would not benefit from grade inflation, he contacted many local politicians and was repeatedly assured that “point inflation won’t occur”.

When the CAO offers were released, Cloney was disappointed to learn he had not received his first choice, which had risen by 23 points. He is glad to have received his second choice and is looking forward to beginning at UCD. However, as he reiterated, many other reapplicants were not as fortunate, “there are many who didn’t see a single offer, despite previously having 40/50 points above their bottom choice”. He described these students as being “locked out” from higher education.

Cloney described the government's treatment of CAO reapplicants as “unjust”. He feels students are being “blamed” for trusting the government's reassurances that points wouldn’t rise, and subsequently “filling out the CAO with that expectation”. 

Students from high-achieving schools are also very disappointed with the predicted grading system. These students claim that the system of downgrading grades was unfair to high-achieving schools as grades were standardised to fit in with the national average, which they usually surpass.

The first challenge against the predicted grades system came before the High Court on September 16th. Aine Finnegan, a student of the Institute of Education brought the action. Aine missed out on her place to study Medicine in Trinity by three points due to the fact three of her grades were downgraded. The student is claiming the standardisation process was unfair to students in high-performing schools. She hopes to receive an order quashing the downgrade of her grades, as well as a declaration stating the standardisation process is unfair to high-performing schools, and that the state acted unlawfully by downgrading her grades without having an appropriate process designed for high performing schools. Several legal cases are expected in the coming weeks relating to the Leaving Certificate and CAO 2020. 

The Union of Students in Ireland President, Lorna Fitzpatrick described the Leaving Certificate and CAO model as “unfair” and stated that focus must be placed on “reforming the system”.