Why don’t students cross the border any more?

[This is taken from A Note from the Next Door Neighbours, the monthly e-bulletin of Andy Pollak, Director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies in Armagh and Dublin]

One column leads to another. Responding to my colleague Patricia Clarke’s Note from the Next Door Neighbours last month on the row about cross-border pupils using their grannies’ addresses to obtain school places in Derry, an irate parent has contacted us about his daughter’s cross-border higher education disappointment. This man is a Northern Ireland resident who owns a small business and pays his taxes in the Republic. This summer his daughter received As in her four A-level exams, the highest mark achievable in the British school-leaving exam (since no student in the UK ever takes more than four subjects at A-level, except in extraordinary circumstances). Her dream had been to do medicine at a university in the Republic, but no Southern university would take her, since four As at A-level apparently does not equate to the ridiculous 590-600 points demanded to do medicine there. Plenty of British universities were only too happy to take her, and she has now started her medical degree in Manchester.

This story started me thinking about the extraordinary ignorance that exists in second-level schools about the possibilities of students doing their undergraduate studies at a university in the other Irish jurisdiction. Some years ago I gave the prize day address at a prominent Northern Catholic grammar school in a town close to the border. This took place in December so I was able to peruse the list of that year’s school-leavers to see to which university these high-achieving young students had gone to. There were over 100 names on the roll of honour, of which just one had gone to a Southern university.

It works – or rather doesn’t work – in both directions. A young Dubliner, one of the winners of this year’s Universities Ireland-IBEC-CBI business-sponsored Masters awards, who is beginning a Master’s degree at Queen’s University Belfast, told me earlier this month how struck he had been by how few Southerners there were at Queen’s. This is a far cry from the situation in the mid-nineties, when University of Ulster was attracting 17% of its full-time degree students from the South, and Queen’s around half that figure. The most recent UCAS British university admission figures show the number of students from the Republic taking up places in Northern universities falling from 700 in 2004 to less than half that in 2006. This means that there is now virtually no cross-fertilisation of education and culture represented by a flow of Southern students into Northern Ireland. At the very least, that is a great pity at a time when ‘learning to live together on the island’ is one of the mantras of a successful, but yet to be bedded down, peace process.

Similarly in the South, Higher Education Authority figures show that fewer than 1% of higher education students come from Northern Ireland. Even at Trinity College Dublin, which until the 1970s used to be a place bright Northern Ireland students from a Protestant background looked to as a real alternative to Oxford, Cambridge and other leading British universities, the proportion of students from Northern Ireland is now down to 3%.

In the 1990s the main reason Southern students went North was the absence of fees and the ability to bring their maintenance grants with them. The availability of funding appears not to be the open sesame to cross-border student flows it once was. That is Universities Ireland’s experience anyway. The business-sponsored Masters bursaries referred to earlier, offering students a ?20,000 award for a year’s study in the other Irish jurisdiction, are among the most generous anywhere in Britain and Ireland for postgraduate students at this level. Yet despite a very significant level of publicity around the nine universities, there were precisely 38 applications for these bursaries this year, half a dozen of them so sub-standard as not to warrant serious consideration.

So what are the chill factors stopping Irish students considering universities across the border? We know that Northern universities, unlike their British counterparts over the water, do not need to recruit undergraduates in the South because of the UK Government’s cap on student numbers in Northern Ireland. But with the boom of recent years in the number of undergraduate applications now at an end, the same cannot be said for Southern universities. And at a time of increasing student fees in the North, does not the ‘free fees’ regime in the South now not make the South’s universities even marginally attractive to Northerners? Or is a key chill factor here the very high cost of living – and in particular the cost of student accommodation – in cities like Dublin and Galway? If any readers of this column have any answers to this conundrum, this writer would be most interested to hear them.

Andy Pollak

P.S. Readers may be interested to know that the phenomenon of second level students travelling across borders to go to school is not restricted to Ireland. The French newspaper Libération carried an article recently on a government report which showed that 7,000 French pupils from the border region adjoining Belgium now go to Belgian schools. Would the two Departments of Education perhaps co-operate on a survey to find out what the equivalent level is in the Irish border region?

  • ulsterfan


    You have posed a very important question, and with your understanding of cross border University education you have given us the answer, which is all to do with finance.
    It is only in the last six or seven years that students realised there was a price to pay and that they would have to carry the cost.
    They are prepared to compromise with their first choice of University and course and seek a cost effective degree.

  • dewi

    Fascinating post – interesting about TCD and absence of Northern students. I’ve read anecdotally about Ulster prods favouring Scottish Unis – but I’ve met quite a few in London fairly recently.
    I tell you one thing though I’d love to have me time again and do me degree in QUB – those Botanic girls…. Wonderful!

  • missfitz

    My son had seriously considered Trinity for this year, and may still do so next year. He went to the Abbey CBS in Newry, and I think 4 or more of his classmates went to University in Dublin.

    The deciding factor for me as a parent was the availability and cost of accommodation. To be fair, my son had a very good offer of same, but I know of school leavers from this area who had to decline their place in Dublin due to lack of accommodation.

    Just another point: 4 A levels are pretty standard, at least in the schools around here. It certainly isnt unheard of to have kids taking 5 or more subjects at A level, particularly if they aspire to Medicine or Vet Science in the ROI

  • lamh dearg

    4As at A level would be enough to warrant an offer for medicine in any of the Southern Medical Schools and many from my neck of the woods (Derry) do apply but fewer go than was the case 20 or 30 years ago for a variety of reasons.

    The application system CAO is very different to UCAS so if you want to go South you have to master this system and try to work out the value of your Northern qualifications. It’s easier just to stick with the familiar UCAS.

    CAO operates much later than UCAS so it’s nerve wracking to let UCAS offers go in the hope that you will be OK in the South

    For some courses CAO operates the random factor to select among candidates on the same points, probably fair but scary

    Accom, as missfitz mentions, probably the biggest factor. Be a student in Dublin and live in Athlone or spend a humungous fortune for something in Dublin

    Cheap flights to UK & Scotland. I can travel from Derry to Cambridge in less time than I can travel to Dublin and for little more expense. English and Scottish Universities are so much closer than they used to be.

    All these factors make it simply easier not to go South rather than any firm decision that you don’t want to go or that you’re not wanted down there.

    PS If you are from the North and really want to go to TCD, contact Shane Ross, one of the TCD Senators, it’s one of his big things, trying to get Northerners in. That fact alone would be enough to put me off the idea, but each to his own.

  • missfitz

    Actually Lamh dearg, you reminded me of the horrors we had here over the summer.

    The CAO system was completely mystifying to us. We submitted everything as requested, but found they lost results and were very difficult to deal with. UCAS on the other hand appears much more user friendly. The child did his Oxford exams yesterday, and we shall see how it goes. But you are correct, for ease of use, I definitely think CAO leaves a lot to be desired.

  • Fraggle

    Blame the quality of the A-Level. As far as I’m aware, the points given for each A-Level was recently downgraded in comparison to a leaving cert and the points system is still based on the old ‘standard’ three A-levels. This means the maximum points you can get with A-Levels is 510, not enough for some courses.

    This is not the fault of the CAO. They are having to deal with a shambles of an exam system where the quality is dropping gradually over time. If students lose out, it’s down to the dodgy UK exam system.

    The logical thing to do would be to reduce the points of an A-Level to 150 each and count four of them but they would really need to stabilize first. I wouldn’t have my kids do A-Levels.

    Point of interest: The QUB school of pharmacy won’t accept leaving certs at all without an A-Level in chemistry even though the leaving cert is good enough for Trinity. This means in effect that there are almost no southeners in the QUB pharmacy course.

  • Excuse my ignorance, but isn’t this compatability of qualifications question between different countries of the EU one of the things that the Bologna(?)Process is supposed to have addressed?

  • Nevin

    Andy, ‘learning to live together on the island’ is one of the mantras promoted – by nationalists. The 1998 Agreement dealt with the relationships across the UK and Ireland.

    QUB joined the then UCCA in the late 60s so that opened up a whole new vista for students from here. Magee College, whose students had formerly completed their degrees at Trinity, became part of the University of Ulster around the same time. These changes may have had a significant effect.

    I remember visiting Edinburgh University in the early 80s. I dropped into the Admissions Office and asked why a student from Coleraine who’d obtained 4As hadn’t even got an offer from EU’s medical faculty. I can’t remember the details exactly but they operated a quota system; they retained about 100 places for Scottish students and offered 40 places to the rest of the world – NI had got 4.

  • Fraggle

    oneill, the Bologna process is more to do with standardizing 3rd level qualifications rather than 2nd level qualifications which we are discussing here.

  • slug

    Lack of accommodation put me off Trinity. Plus a lot of GB universities are very good. Scotland is losing its draw, more are now going to England.

  • Turgon

    Slightly off topic but my parents wanted me to go to Cambridge. I was not clever enough and had to go to QUB instead. I would not get into my old course now with my A level grades, Actually not getting what I wanted in my A levels and rather letting down my parents was the best thing which could have happened to me.

    It made me realise that I was not actually that clever and that I would have to work very, very hard at university. It rapidly became a habit and although I did not enjoy university much I did get a decent degree (better than my intellegence merited) and have done fairly well out of it.

    I also went to QUB a rather politically liberal and naive child (I was really no more than a child) more fond of church and my horse than anything else. And QUB, the unionist association and the Student’s union have helped make me a member of the prodiban. Oh dear I guess people like missfitz will probably not want their kids to go to QUB now.

  • slug


    You mean that Queens made you less liberal?

  • missfitz

    Not exactly sure what you are implying? Both my daughters are QUB graduates, and I am also a Queens graduate. I had been doing my MA there but switched to the OU for financial reasons.

    Why do you think I would be against Queens?

  • slug

    The quality of teaching is one of the most important things about a university; will the tutors inspire you? Will you be taught by research leaders? Queens is better than the Scots universities in this sense but Oxford and Cambridge – as well as LSE, Imperial etc, really are excellent.

  • missfitz

    We put a lot of faith in the guides to the Universities, but we also spent a lot of time (and money) trailing around different campuses to see what felt right. I think my son didnt want to follow all the women in the family to Queens! I must say, we were in St Andrew’s recently, and I loved it. What a spectacular setting for a university

  • Turgon

    Not implying anything against you at all just that I became a lot less liberal at Queens. I thought you might be horrified that university deliberalised me. No insult to you at all and if I offended you at all my apologies. it was more an attempt at humour. Sorry I do not do humour very well.

    Very definitely QUB made me a lot less liberal. I was brought up in South Londonderry in a very predominantly Protestant area. My parents had a fair number of Catholic friends but they were all middle class and liberal as were my parents.

    When I went to QUB I discovered that there were actually people who supported the IRA, really thought killing Prods was a good idea. That sort of thing along with the QUB Student’s union changed me. In terms of re-liberalising me after QUB; marrying a girl from South Fermanagh did not help. She is extremely gentle, kind, sweet, pretty and as unionist as the day is long.

  • slug


    I know what you mean although I didn’t go to Queens. I was all very liberal and had a lot of sympathy for the nationalist position until such time as I encountered bigoted attitudes against uninoists among nationalists. Then I realised that there was a lot more to NI history than just unionist discrimination against Catholics (which is what I was socialised into thinking by the liberal education offered at my grammar school).

  • lamh dearg

    The above discussions reinforce my agreement with Gerry Anderson about the value of leaving NI if only for a few years. See a bit of the world, especially a bit where your religion isn’t the defining characteristic of your life.

    Avoid Queens not because there is anything wrong with it as a university but because it is in an abnormal society. Go to England, Scotland or the South and have your horizons expanded.

  • lamh dearg

    PS missfitz

    All the best with the Oxford Entrance procedure, what college has he picked?

  • The Raven

    Lamh dearg, it’s the scale of those not returning that would worry me. I am SURE it has changed since my day – which, ok, is now 13 years ago. My school did a follow-up programme for a few years on a “where are you now?” basis, for what reason I have no idea.

    Anyway, three years after leaving college, I got one of these wee letters asking after us, so I phoned and got talking to the teacher who was looking after it. Obviously as time goes on there were less replies, so this was the last year they were doing MY year at the school. Oh yes, he said, your year was particularly bad. There were 144 lads, and at the end of the first year of counting, only 6 were left in Northern Ireland. At the time of calling (3 years AFTER your average 3 year course was over) IIRC he said this had gone up to 12.

    Personally I know very few of them came back. This was a Protesant grammar school. Wonder what the up-to-date scientific research on the out-migration would say about the situation now? Just a thought. Sorry to go O.T.

  • lamh dearg

    I imagine it is no better now. I have 3 children all in England and I don’t expect any of them to return. Why would they? My eldest came home after finishing her degree and went to the Employment exchange and was advised to apply for a job cleaning toilets. She now has a good fulfilling job in London.

    We owe this province nothing. If our brightest can find a better life elsewhere, good luck to them

  • Harry Flashman

    It was ever thus, back in the mid 1980’s when we were applying for universities, our first term in upper sixth was spent poring over the prospectuses of British universities. We were a Catholic grammar school in a fervently nationalist area and yet the students would be discussing earnestly the relative merits of Aberystwyth (sp) versus Newcastle.

    Eventually the boys settled on the towns where their favourite teams played, 40 went to Manchester (the same as Queens), Liverpool and Glasgow were the next most popular. We were all fully versed in the ways of UCCA selection and spent weeks preparing our applications.

    Then in February the careers master said, “Oh by the way here’s the forms for CAO (I think that was the name of the Irish system) if anyone’s interested”, none of my friends were remotely interested in going to university in ” the south”. On a whim I applied to Trinity and then never gave it a second thought until my results came out and I was let down for Edinburgh and Birmingham. Suddenly my Trinity fall back was all I had.

    Imagine, one of the finest universities in the English speaking world, four hours drive down the road from my front door and it was my “consolation prize” for missing out on Birmingham!

    The only other guy from my school who went there also did so as a second best, incredible. Only two other boys from my year went south one to UCG and another to UCD. Mind you as the years wore on more Derry wans started coming down but funnily enough they were all girls, it seemed that the boys just didn’t even see Dublin on their radar.

  • missfitz

    He applied to Brasenose College. Bit of an English language genius.

    Picking up on another idea in this thread, I wouldn’t really expect my son to come here if he goes away got college. He has seen his sisters struggle to find work with their degrees, and I imagine if he gets an opportunity in London or wherever, he will stay there.

    That in itself says a lot about us, and reminds me of my own economic plight in the 80’s when I left Dublin. I am not sure that there is an Ulster Tiger in sight though, but wouldnt that be a nice thought

  • slug

    missfitz, Brasenose is nice and central. Best of luck to him.

  • slug

    ” I am not sure that there is an Ulster Tiger in sight though, but wouldnt that be a nice thought ”

    If there is to be one it will have to be focussed on Greater Belfast. Its in the cities where the economic booms happen. Where is this Varney character and his report?

  • Katinka

    I am a graduate of Queen’s who had a working life and then went back as a (very) mature student. Perhaps I am qualified to make a few remarks.

    Firstly it is not the university you go to that matters although some have a better standing than others, it is what you make of the university experience. This is very much more than the academic, it is about your social life, the clubs you join and the sport you play. The purpose of a university is to teach you to think.

    Queen’s is a really good university. It is academically rigorous and it has a fine ethos. However, if you go there, associate only with your peers from school or the same religious background, and do little else you are wasting your time. On the other hand if you go there, meet and associate with people from different creeds, classes, colours and races, if you play sport, join clubs, you will have a mind broadening experience that will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life. And have friends spread all over the world with whom you stay in contact for the rest of your life. I speak from experience.

    As an employer, I found that the most employable people were those who used the university experience to the full. These are the people that employers want.

  • Turgon

    Ah that is where I went wrong. I just tried to get a good degree and try to have a decent career. As well of course as holding to my religious beliefs. I clearly wasted my time. Oh well, I am quite happy being narrow minded, I guess my more limited life still has some value.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    Hi Turgon – How did your liberal parents react to your becoming a Prodiban?

  • Harry

    Harry Flashman’s experience is one I recognise well. The catholic run secondary schools of the north did not focus on southern universities at all except as a mere afterthought which they were obliged to mention. I think the reason for this is because the catholic church had a much greater interest in sending middle class catholics to build up the church in protestant Britain than it had in actually giving clear career guidance from an Irish perspective to its students. In this we can see that children were pawns to be used in a larger game by the catholic church amongst others.

    The consistency of this approach can be seen by the manner in which catholic grammar schools gave only the most perfunctory education in the Irish language – usually for only a year – before most pupils quietly dropped it without further encouragement; the catholic church had a greater interest in being anglo-centric for the purposes of its own agenda than it had in educating the young people in the cultural history that was otherwise there to be known and explored. The catholic church was quietly but determinedly partitionist.

    These churchmen, while posturing as decent and trustworthy adults, were in fact manipulative and agenda driven in a cowardly and unspoken way. They let down their charges.

  • Dewi

    Fascinating by the Raven and an excellent blog and thread. What comes first jobs or an educated population – Dunno. One advantage is the trite stereotypical cultural definition of the ethos amongst both communities there. I reckon it’s a trueism that you have no moral hangups about making money and that in this world is a good thing.

  • lamh dearg

    Harry, how do you post in the future?

    I have to disagree with you about Catholic Second level schools. I went to a well known catholic grammar, the same one as H Flashman I think, got a great education in the Irish language, went to the Gaeltacht every summer where I was taught by some of the same teachers. That school no longer teaches Irish (as far as I am aware) and the drift from Irish coincided with a decline in religious influence and was driven by a mainly parental attitude that Irish was dead and a waste of time. Wrong in my opinion and sad but nothing to do with any anglocentric proselytising catholic plan. And Elvis is dead and there really was a moon landing.

    But the decline in numbers heading south become self perpetuating, the careers teachers know less about the southern universities, fewer 6th formers are exposed to people at southern universities while they have lots of contacts throughout England and Scotland.

    Katinka is obviously right, University should broaden your outlook and experience, Turgon’s experience just illustrates that it is harder to do so in Northern Ireland, but it can be done.

  • Harry

    lamh dearg I’m talking about the mid-80’s. If things have declined since then then they are dead altogether.

    How many in your grammar school in any given year do you think continued with Irish after the 1 year compulsory course? What other places did the majority of students experience Irish outside of those few hours per week during that compulsory year?

    No doubt once you had decided to study Irish further you were exposed to the Donegal gaeltacht and other experiences but for the vast majority of pupils there was no encouragement to study and take the language seriously and there was no encouragement to think about university courses over the border.

    The study of history was similarly monitored and tightly controlled. Irish history is an inflammatory thing – especially for an Irishman – and the catholic church was going to in no way upset the accomodation it had come to with the unionist and British status quo by teaching Irish students any in depth understanding of its history, by exploring in depth the gaelic aspects of their culture or by making them aware of any all Ireland options with regard to third level education. The catholic church had its deal with the status quo and its agenda – it stuck to them.

  • George

    Here are the statistics from the DELNI for 2005/2006:

    While the numbers of northerners going south is only 1%, they seem to show an increase in the number of students from the Republic going north:


    The number of higher education students increased by 7% between 2001/02 and 2005/06.

    “In 2005/06, 74% of NI domiciled students studied at NI institutions, 25% at GB institutions (including 5% at the Open University) and just over 1% at RoI institutions…

    “The number of NI domiciled full-time undergraduate students at NI institutions has increased by 14% between 2001/02 and 2005/06 while at GB institutions they increased by 8%. Over the same period NI domiciled full-time postgraduate students at NI institutions decreased by 6% while at GB institutions they increased by 15%…

    “The number of NI domiciled full-time undergraduate first year students at NI institutions has increased by 10% between 2001/02 and 2005/06 and increased by 13% at GB institutions…

    “In 2005/06, 88% of students enrolled on HE courses at NI institutions were from NI, 2% from GB, 7% from RoI and 3% from elsewhere. NI domiciled students accounted for 93% of undergraduate students and 69% of postgraduate students at NI institutions….

    “Between 2001/02 and 2005/06 full-time undergraduate first year enrolments at NI institutions increased by 11%. Over the same period, total first year students from NI enrolled on HE courses at NI institutions have increased by 5%, students from GB have increased by 6%, students from RoI have increased by 12% and students from elsewhere have increased by 5%.

  • Dewi

    I wish I’d followed Turgon’s route to be honest. Tried to do Pure Maths – but when they started on about Vector spaces in n dimensions I sort of lost the plot. Spent enough time in Library but on Welsh History, American Labour History, any Irish stuff….Oh and joined a band, played Rugby aand Soccer and painted gren a few monolingual signs.
    Interesting the observations on Irish – lovely experience last night on train in Newport speaking in Welsh to this lady from Anglesey – at Newport half a dozen Newport schoolgirls came on -out for the night in Cardiff – heard us talking Welsh and promptly joined in – products of English Medium Schools but fluent enough to hold their own – technology is changing the effectiveness of second language teaching.

    As a slight digression I know how to save the language in the South. If every TV advert on all channels were bilingual then it would get heard – convinced that hearing the language is key. Approach to bilingualism in the private sector very poor and with a state making the right noises a more proscriptive approach is necessary.

  • George

    Other DELNI statistics for 2005/2006 seem to indicate that the trend of not going south seems to be replicated for graduates.


    “Of those whose location of employment was known, 75% of undergraduates gaining qualifications took up employment in NI, 20% in GB, 3% in the Republic of Ireland (RoI) and 2% elsewhere.

    Of leavers gaining postgraduate qualifications, 65% took up employment in NI, 28% in GB, 4% in RoI and 3% elsewhere.

    Of the 5,410 NI domiciled undergraduates who attained qualifications through full-time study at Higher Education institutions in NI and had DLHE data returned to HESA, 91% of those whose
    location of employment was known remained in NI, 5% went to GB and 3% went to RoI….

    “Of the 2,195 NI domiciled undergraduates who attained qualifications through full-time study at Higher Education institutions in GB and had DLHE data returned to HESA, 36% of those whose
    location of employment was known returned to NI, 58% remained in GB and 2% went to RoI.”

  • Fraggle

    Is this St. Columb’s you’re talking about?

  • Dewi

    Fascinating George:

    It seems study in the north = stay there. Study in GB = stay there.

    Just to get me head right the 75% at the top is for the total population and the 91% and 36% subsets ?

  • Yer Woman

    I went to a catholic convent grammar in the north west and CAO was a total after thought when it came to applying for Universities. It put off me and a lot of my fellow students due to the sheer civil service-esque bureaucracy of the form-filling it entailed and this too put off our careers advisor who didn’t really push us to apply to Uni’s over the border as a result.

    I (along with vast majority of my year) ended up going to Queen’s and I wish now I hadn’t bothered as I don’t thing I really got the full University experience there. I could be wrong, but the majority of QUB students when I was there hailed from west of the Bann, stuck with the same friends they had at school and didn’t integrate with other people, and scarpered off home every weekend.

    Friends of mine that headed over the border or over the water to university got a hell of a lot more from their experiences, made loads of life-long friends and 9 out 10 times ended up with better well-paid jobs.

  • George

    I tried to cut down the 24-page report into a short post so apologies for the confusion. The 75% is for all NI domiciled full-time students (undergraduate + postgraduate) while the others relate to undergraduates with an NI domicile studying in NI (91%) or GB (36%).

  • Dewi

    Got you thanks George.

  • Harry Flashman

    Yer woman, you confirm my recollections exactly and those of a very good friend of mine who went to Queeens whom I met at post-graduate study in a fairly run of the mill university in the north of England after I left Trinity.

    To me this new place was a sad and shrivelled excuse for a university, modern, bleak concrete and glass architecture and a campus located in a northern town that frankly resented its very presence.

    As I was fresh from Trinity it was a depressing place but my Queens friend loved it, he met so many wonderful people from around the world that he had simply never encountered before and his year there in contrast to mine was one of great enlightenment. He explained to me that at Queens he may as well never have left school for all the good the experience did him.

  • Yer Woman

    Exactly Harry.

    What’s worse is the drop-out rate from QUB among my old classmates who suffered from bad bouts of homesickness having only relocated some 75 miles down the road!

    Turgon’s point about QUB making him less liberal – I agree with that too. My degree was Politics and one of my first year modules was on “The Politics of Northern Ireland”. This module coincided with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and the debates during tutorials were quite heated, with lots of sectarian overtones from usually quite mild-mannered people, if memory serves me right
    One classmate spoke of how he “resigned from the UUP and joined the DUP” as a result. I’d love to have remembered his name to see if he’s in a position of power now.

  • The Educatinor

    The problem experienced by the young lady referred to in Andy Pollack’s article is largely created by the difficulty in equating A-Level with Leaving Certificate results.

    For example, Trinity scroes 4 “A”s at A-Level as equal to 600 points – the maximum that anyone can score in the Leaving Certificate system. 4 “A”s and a “B” is scored at 500.

    The problem Trinity and the other southern universities have in dealing with A-levels is traditionally the lack of distinction between various “A”s in A-level, whereas the Leaving Cert is much more graduated with A1s, A2s, etc. This created a situation whereby a person who had just scraped at A in A-level was treated the same as a person who obtained an A1 in the Leaving (a very high “A” in A-level if you like).

    Now whatever your views on the merits or otherwise of the two exam systems, the net result of this treatment meant that it was “easier” to get into Trinity through A-levels than the Leaving Cert.

    To give an example – say the points for law in Trinity are 550. If you get 4 very low “A”s in A-level, you have the points. However, in the Leaving, you might need 4 A1s and 2As to get that score.

    The net result of this in the early 1990s was that the subjects with the highest points (law and medicine being the prime examples) saw huge numbers of A-level students compared to Leaving Cert students. In at least a couple of the law classes of the mid-1990s well over half the class came from an A-level background.

    Now you can chose to agree or disagree on the next point (I’m offering no view), but the powers that be at Trinity took a decision that to have over 50% of certain classes coming from an A-level background was not conducive to a balanced college population representing the entire island in proportion. As a result, a quota system was introduced, where a proportion of places was reserved for A-level students and a proportion for Leaving Cert students. Using law as an example – say there are 100 places in a particular law class. 75 of these might be reserved for Leaving Cert students and 25 for A-level students. Therefore, a person who wants to study law at Trinity from the North is effectively competing for one of 25 spots. A lot of bright people choose to study law. If more than 25 A-level applicants obtain 4 As, the problem Trinity has is how to differentiate between them. The solution they use is to employ random selection.

    This is highly unsatisfactory as an A-level student who has obtained 4 As (the maximum score possible)is still not absolutely certain of getting a place in law if he or she has 25 contempories with the same score.

    The answer would appear to lie in the fact that (I think) it is now possible to get actual scores in A-levels as opposed to just an A grade, B grade etc. If candidates are picked on their actual scores, this would at least remove the unfairness caused by random selection.

    What does anyone think?

  • lamh dearg

    A*s in A level as in GCSE

    Oxbridge and the Russell Group have the same problem and mostly (except Queen’s) interview but they also want to either have an A* grade or access raw A level marks.

    I suppose the bottom line is that for oversubscribed courses there will always be some form of further selection and no-one knows the correct way or even what we really want to select

    Interview favours the middle classes and perpetrutes the social divide at University and in the professions

    Results/grades/marks whatever favours those good at getting results/grades/marks, do such people make the best students or doctors or lawyers? Before the huge expansion in QUB Medical school a few years ago it had got to the stage that straight As in Alevel was nowhere near enough to get into medicine, you had to have A*s in GCSE, initially 5, then 6, then 7 so that eventually medical students were being selected on whether they got an A or an A* in French or Geography.

    So now the aptitude tests have arrived, BMAT (Bio Medical Aptitude Test), LNAT for Law and HNAT for History. Extra supposedly non academic tests taken by potential stusents, usually on computer in Driving Test Centres testing thinking skills, attitudes, ethics, empathy etc, now used by a lot (possibly most) of English Medical Schools. But will the result be better doctors?

    The South’s random allocation of places among all who achieve a standard deemed suitable to get in is probably as defensible as anything else

  • frank the tank

    i went to nuig myself and there was loads of northeners there a lot of them from around newry.one thing that surprised me was there was a considerable amount of protestants among the gang.(they were all sound but maybe understandably were slightly cliquey)

  • Turgon

    lamh dearg,

    I agree about the aptitude tests. I am very dubious that they would appropriately select people for say medicine. The school pupil would be selected at 17/18 and medicine is a five year degree, the people may well have changed a great deal in 5 years. Also of course people will be taught how to answer these questions so they may well help those who can afford to pay for such teaching.

    In addition look at what happened with the new recuritment scheme for junior doctors in the UK which seems to have adopted these sort of strategies and have been a complete disaster.

    I am sure very similar arguments would apply to any other essentially vocational degree course.

    There is an on going problem in the case of law, medicine and vetinary as well as others that the grades needed are now increadibly high. The suggestion of publishing marks may be the only solution.

  • Briso

    Posted by Fraggle on Nov 02, 2007 @ 12:23 PM
    Is this St. Columb’s you’re talking about?

    I suspect it must be. And as another who left in the ‘mid-80s’ I suspect I know them all. I don’t know whether to be pleased or horrified…

  • ec

    As far as i know correct me if im wrong but the pharmacy course in qeens refuses to accept non Northern students. I as a dubliner enquired about applying to queens to study pharmacy. The response i got was clear and unequivical “we only have room on the course for people from northern ireland” were the words i was told ,. it wasnt about fees for me… I ended up studying and getting my degree in england.. its a pity though i really would have liked to have studied in belfast– it would have been alot closer to home in dublin aswell.