Prof Patrick Geoghegan defends alternative admissions scheme

newsProf Patrick Geoghegan, Trinity’s former dean of undergraduate studies, has defended the new admissions scheme tested by College for the first time this year. Writing in The Irish Times on Thursday, Geoghegan responded to criticism of the scheme from retired general manager of the CAO, John McAvoy, also published in The Irish Times.

Under this pilot scheme, 25 students were allocated places in College in 2014 based on alternative criteria in addition to their Leaving Certificate results. These included relative performance rank (a student’s place in their class relative to the other students in that class also applying to Trinity), an essay, special circumstances (illness, death of family member, significant extracurricular involvement, etc.) or achievements not reflected in the CAO application.

In an article entitled “Students are the guinea pigs in Trinity’s experiment”, published in The Irish Times on Tuesday, McAvoy had termed the trial scheme a “charade” and an “exercise in futility,” and referred to the selection process as “mumbo-jumbo verging on voodoo.”

“Trinity’s ill-judged action arises from a view that the Leaving Certificate is inadequate in selecting those who should obtain a place,” he said, arguing that the Leaving Cert has been in use “for almost 50 years… and it has often been criticized. Yet, for all the criticism, no better alternative has ever come to light. The Leaving Cert “is as fair as anything can be,” he said.

The 25 students taking part in the trial scheme “got up to 150 points below the entry requirement” for their courses, he continued. “I am sure that those 25 are very happy,” he said. “However, what about the 25 students who got up to 150 more points but were deprived of a place because Trinity decided to experiment?”

According to McAvoy, the system “jeopardise(s) the future of the students.” He said, “I should have thought that if it (the scheme) had been presented by a post-graduate student as a research project it would have been ignominiously rejected as infantile.”

But Geoghegan responded that, while College does not necessarily consider use of the Leaving Cert as the basis for college entry as unfair, “using a single examination as the sole method of deciding upon the suitability of an applicant for a course” is unfair.

Describing some of the language used by McAvoy as “intemperate and regrettable,” Geoghegan said that the 25 students who had been admitted under the scheme “were not chosen by some kind of “voodoo”, but after a rigorous and exhaustive process” and that “far from being guinea pigs undeserving of their places,” they “are enthusiastic and able students… with ability and potential that goes beyond a narrow points total.”

Geoghegan closed his refutation of McAvoy’s criticism by asserting that “we do not claim to have solved the problem of the points race… but we stand over the decision to attempt to solve it, rather than sitting back and accepting the status quo purely because that is the way it has always been.”