CAO reform- end the points system

The Department of Education, under the new stewardship of Ruairi Quinn, has requested submissions from University and IT presidents on the reform of the CAO or ‘points’ system. While Minister Quinn has set out on a reform agenda, one issue, perhaps the most important, which won’t be discussed is the very principle of limiting access to 3rd level education.

While higher education is supposed to be a right, the existence of the point system has meant that many are excluded. The points system has two major effects. It prevents people from being able to choose what they want to study and it prevents others from accessing 3rd level at all.

I’m not sure if any rationale has ever been provided, but presumably some kind of pseudo-meritocratic thinking underpins the points system. It seems clear that something is not a right when you have to compete to access it – access to first and second level education, and indeed public services in general, is not subject to any kind of competition.

The points system is the key reason why people from disadvantaged communities continue to be excluded from 3rd level despite the free fees scheme. Many people either don’t get the points or don’t do the leaving cert in the first place. If the state is unable/unwilling to provide an adequate 2nd level education for everyone, than their can be no basis for excluding those who don’t have a leaving cert from 3rd level. The points system, moreover, is universally despised by 2nd level students as it is an extremely stressful and meaningless experience with virtually no positive learning outcomes.

The points system is possibly the clearest reason why we can’t pursue a politics of ‘defending the university’ or limit ourselves to resistance to 3rd level fees. It forces us to think beyond the question of free education and consider the nature of the universities and the non-financial exclusions and hierarchies it presupposes and reinforces.

If education is a right than universal access should be demanded. We should not be subject to arbitrary competitions that distract us from the real business of learning. The universities, after all, belong to everyone.

Mick O’Broin

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One Response to CAO reform- end the points system

  1. Pingback: Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » CAO reform – end the points system

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