Admissions Matters

Well, the wait is almost over. Tomorrow is the day that students in Ireland get their Leaving Certificate results. Tomorrow’s date is Tuesday 13th August, so I hope that’s not a bad omen! A couple of days later this week, on Thursday, UK students get their A-level results.

Here in Ireland, University admissions are dealt with through the Central Applications Office (CAO) which, for UK readers, is roughly equivalent to UCAS. Earlier this year we heard Maynooth University received its highest-ever number of first_preference applications, which is a very positive sign, but we don’t know yet exactly how many of those actually made the grade needed to start here next month.

As is the case in the UK with A-level results, Irish institutions receive the Leaving Certificate results a bit before the students do, which means that on both sides of the Irish sea higher education institutions will be very busy sorting through their applications to see who has made it onto what course. This is a very stressful time for all concerned, not only the prospective students but also the university staff involved in processing the results and academics wondering how many students they will have to teach next year.

From time to time one hears suggestions that the system could be made much fairer and less stressful if students could remove some of the uncertainty by applying  to university after getting their Leaving Cert (or A-level) results rather than, as is the case now, before. UPDATE: here’s a piece in the Guardian by Angela Rayner arguing this.

The problem is that there are only two ways that I can see to achieve this:

  • have the final school examinations earlier;
  • start the university academic year later.

The unavoidable consequence of the first option would be the removal of large quantities of material from the syllabus so the exams could be held several months earlier, which would be a disaster in terms of preparing students for university.

The second option would mean starting the academic year in, say, January instead of late Septembe. This would in my opinion be preferable to 1, but would still be difficult because it would interfere with all the other things a university does as well as teaching, especially research. The summer recess (July-September), wherein much research is currently done, could be changed to an autumn one (October-December) but there would be a great deal of resistance, especially from the older establishments; I can’t see Oxbridge being willing to abandon its definitions of teaching term! And what would the students do between July and January?

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7 Responses to “Admissions Matters”

  1. “And what would the students do between July and January?”

    Presumably this would apply only to first-year students. Why not take a holiday for half a year? Too many people follow the birth-sleep-work-death routine (bonus points if you spot where I nicked that from). After university, with work, perhaps children, mortgage, etc, one would have to wait until retirement to have such luxury again.

    Or mandatory community service for all who enter university. I think that this would be a good idea, especially for those who go from Eton to Oxbridge to PM. 😐

  2. Well, for Oxbridge, moving term like that is a huge thing that involves changing Statutes and petitioning the Privy Council and so on. I think the biggest resistance would be from people with school-age children, who pretty much rely on the alignment of University terms with school terms, especially in the summer!

  3. All big organisations have their annual rhythm, and universities are probably more rigid than most, so any change would require several years planning and transition. However, the pre-A-Level (Leaving Certicate) application is clearly becoming more and more unsatisfactory; applying when the student has some properly quantified grades (rather than a probability density function) means that there is no need for insurance offers, clearing and so on. A January start to the university year seems the best practical solution (which the Open University copes with!) but I agree there are all sorts of issues about summer vacations. Mind you, Finals in December would avaid the hay fever issue.

    I did wonder whether there are things to be learned from other countries. From an extensive (i.e. 5 minutes on Google) research, it seems that the French system is not good and is in the process of being updated. There doesn’t seem to be a German systsem – there are some federal elements, but basically it is run by individual Lander. Does anyone know of a country whose system could be used as a “Best Practice” starting point?

    Separately, there are definite attractions in students spending some time in the real world between school and university. In my day, jobs were relatively easy to come by and what I learned as a van driver was socially invaluable… but not so easy these days – and couriers now need their own vehicles.

    • telescoper Says:

      I had to take the Cambridge Scholarship exam in November for entry the following October so worked for almost a year before going to University.

    • German 101: “Guten Tag”, “danke schön”, “Bildung ist Ländersache”. Yes, education is something handled almost exclusively at the state rather than the federal level. The school holidays vary from year to year and state to state (mainly to avoid summer-holiday traffic jams), but are always sometime in the summer. University terms typically run 1 October–31 March and 1 April–30 September, but with several weeks lecture-free time at the end of each (normally used for exams and labs). Those with the exam which is usually a necessary but, depending on the subject and location of university, not necessarily a sufficient requirement, the Abitur (Latin for “going away”) usually get their marks well before the summer holidays, though. This allows for an extended summer holiday until the beginning of October (when most start, though in many or most cases starting in April is also an option).

      The only downside is that there is sometimes little or no overlap between university and school holidays.

  4. I don’t see the problem with moving the end of the school year a month earlier, if you move the start as well. This would have the advantage that the school summer holiday would actually be in summer, rather than autumn (August in the UK being the first month of autumn). A level results would be known a month earlier than hey are now. The only problem is the transition to the earlier school year.

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