UCD Students’ Union have slammed the university’s decision to start awarding extra points for Leaving Certificate higher level maths, starting in 2012 on a four-year trial basis.

The university is to consult with other universities in the coming weeks before deciding upon the appropriate couse of action.

The move has been welcomed by UCD Registrar, Dr Philip Nolan, who believes that this will boost the uptake of higher level maths.

He stated that the university felt “that increasing mathematics attainment at second and third level is essential and that bonus points is likely to increase the uptake of higher mathematics”.

He went on to say that the initiative “will only be successful if it is part of a suite of measures to interest students in mathematics, to ensure the best possible teaching and to support student learning,” and that the onus is on the government to “ensure that all students have equal access to higher mathematics and that it is available in all schools”.

However, UCDSU have not given their support to the decision, stating that it is “merely putting a band aid over a gaping wound”.

UCDSU President Paul Lynam acknowledged that there are issues with the current higher level mathematics curriculum, but says bonus points are not the answer: “The introduction of bonus points will give students an unfair advantage in accessing courses where Maths is irrelevant such as Law and Medicine. Students will put an unbalanced amount of time trying to achieve high grades in honours Maths and in doing so, neglect other subjects.”

The university has acknowledged that problems, such as a shift in the points race as well as a lack of higher level teaching facilities in some rural areas, may lead to more and more students being denied the chance to enter university, and thus the scheme is to be initially implemented on a trial basis.

Minister for Education Mary Coughlan has welcomed the move and hopes that it will encourage the other six universities in the country to follow suit.

Lynam said that the initiative “is a short-sighted and temporary attempt at a solution, but not a realistic or viable option. The government needs a long-term maths strategy to put resources into second-level education and to cater for students struggling at both honours and ordinary level.”

Higher level maths has been criticised on the basis of a low uptake rate and the fact that less than half of the country’s mathematics teachers are fully qualified to teach the subject.

Lynam expressed his belief that the initiative will have little impact on the uptake of science subjects at third level. “There is no evidence supporting the theory that awarding bonus points for maths will result in more students choosing to study science, engineering and similar subjects. A study by the Irish Universities Association in 2008 discovered that 61% of students with honours Maths chose a field of study other than science, engineering or technology.”