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Trinity College's holistic entrance requirements are affirmative action Irish style


patslatt

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I read in yesterday's Irish Times that Trinity College no longer regards the objectivity of the points system as sufficiently predictive of academic success,justifying its decision to weigh "holistic" characteristics of students in entrance requirements.Apparently, holistic assessment is largely confined to affirmative action that sets quotas for students from lower socioeconomic groups who,though typically less well drilled academically than higher socioeconomic groups, are presumed to have abundant holistic native intelligence. I assume Trinity academic staff believe they are capable of discerning the desired holistic traits in brief interviews. Attractive personality probably ranks highly,along with a good command of verbal English. Other traits probably include evidence of leadership in social activities,such as captaining a club team,high levels of participation in hobbies,sports and voluntary activity and some evidence of creativity,such as interest in painting and participation in amateur musical or drama groups etc.

Barring evidence that Trinity's selection of students on holistic traits is roughly as effective as selection on points,it could be depriving students who have worked hard to earn Trinity's high points requirements of well deserved university places. Trinity has not disclosed how the holistic students have performed academically,however. I expect their dropout rates are well above average and that their academic performance is poor. I would like to be proved wrong.

Another problem is that holistic assessments can be gamed to an extent. Parents who would like their children to attend Trinity can encourage them in social activities that tick the holistic boxes.

Affirmative action in the US, which invented it, was designed to compensate black Americans for historic discrimination. The fiction was that black students benefitting from affirmative action had to be as good as whites before they were given priority in jobs and college entrances. In reality,black students at top US colleges generally found it very difficult to keep up academically and would have been happier attending less competitive four year universities,including all black universities in the US South. Politicians in many states have bought votes by extending affirmative action in education and jobs to several other visible racial minorities,mainly Mexican Americans of several generations standing and AmerIndians, but not to Asian Americans who are new arrivals since the 1960s,nor to Japanese Americans of many generations who are so successful they don't need it.Interesting formulas have been concocted by courts to determine if an affirmative action candidate has the legally correct racial qualifications.
Affirmative action has been subjected to legal challenges in the US,successfully in California,which has wound down the programme in legislation thanks to pressure from visible minority Asian Americans who were ineligible.

Which raises the question,will some rejected student at Trinity challenge the rejection in court?
 


R

Ramps

Not sure if the system of assessment to attend Trinity is comparable to AA, to be honest.

AA means that an applicant is given a boost solely by virtue of his being of a certain racial type; the system in Trinity seems to based on the (not unreasonable) assumption that many students would do well on particular courses even if their Leaving Cert grades aren't top-notch.

I know several people who went back to college/university as mature students and did very well, even though their grades in the LC would have disqualified them. I think it's a worthwhile experiment, but devil..details..etc.

I'm sure there are some courses, e.g. Law, in which students could well struggle if they aren't sufficiently able in the old-fashioned academic sense, regardless of their other qualities.
 

stringjack

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I know several people who went back to college/university as mature students and did very well, even though their grades in the LC would have disqualified them.
But it doesn't obviously follow from that that they would have done very well on those courses if they'd simply been admitted directly from school (nor, of course, does it follow that the university would be able to identify such people at the age of 17).
 

Mark200

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Barring evidence that Trinity's selection of students on holistic traits is roughly as effective as selection on points,it could be depriving students who have worked hard to earn Trinity's high points requirements of well deserved university places. Trinity has not disclosed how the holistic students have performed academically,however. I expect their dropout rates are well above average and that their academic performance is poor. I would like to be proved wrong.
I'd suspect one of the reasons why Trinity hasn't disclosed how such students have performed is because the new system which you're ranting against has not yet been implemented. The proposed system will be brought in on a trial basis to determine whether or not it is effective. A total sum of ~25 students will be accepted through this method in its first year.

It's not comparable to affirmative action. It is not directed at race or some other trait of a generally disadvantaged person, but actually aimed at students who have been disadvantaged but have still managed to show their capability. For example, which person is more impressive and more deserving of a course placement: One who went to the Institute and got 460 points, scraping into their Law course, or one who went to a severely disadvantaged school but was in the top 1% of their year (even if they got lower than the institute student)?
 

Auntie Matter

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The following letter in today's Irish Times expresses my concerns (more eloquently than I perhaps can) about the new admissions system being piloted by Trinity:

Sir, – It would appear the slow erosion of the CAO points system is continuing, with the recent news that Trinity College Dublin is to pilot a new admissions system (Home News, January 14th). The ad hoc replacement of the anonymous, objective CAO points system with one that is much more subjective is an issue that should receive more scrutiny.

There are many politicians and educators that have made statements about the need for new admissions criteria to “broaden” access to education, with very little clarification of what sort of social engineering they have in mind, or any objective evidence to support the contention that the current admissions process is unfair.

In fact, I fear what is meant in many instances, is that the current system is unfair to many students who might otherwise get in on a nod and a wink.

In previous generations, access to higher education and professional training in Ireland was rife with classism, sectarianism and many other conscious and unconscious prejudices. The points system is immune from all these factors. It is one area of Irish life that is entirely objective and meritocratic. The only way a student can get access to his or her desired course is through academic performance. Family connections and income level provide no advantage.

Anyone interested in equality of opportunity and social mobility should strongly support the CAO points system and be deeply suspicious of changes which introduce personal statements, interviews, internships, etc, which are inherently subjective and will favour students from well-off and well-connected family backgrounds. – Yours, etc,

JOHN O’FLAHERTY,
Inchicore Square South,
Dublin 8.
I admit to a certain amount of scepticism when I read things, like Katherine Donnelly, the Irish Independent's Education Editor, recently writing that while the current points system "is often described as fair and transparent, it favours students who excel at exams". Isn't this a bit like complaining that the selection for the Cork minor hurling team favours students who are skilled in the use of a hurley and sliothar?

I fear that, like the HPAT test for admission to medicine courses, the upshot of introducing a requirement to submit a personal statement will be that a mini-industry will emerge dedicated to providing everything from guidance on drafting personal statements to a nicely-written statement itself, all for a handsome fee, of course.

Turning back to the hurling example, when a hurling team goes out on the pitch to play a match, it doesn't matter who got an A in honours maths in the Leaving - all that matters is their skill at the game.

The same logic should, in my mind, apply to college admissions - sporting achievements shouldn't have any relevance, unless of course the applicant seeks a place on a sports-related course. If someone wants to study history in Trinity, their Leaving Cert result in that subject would, in my view, be a more reliable indicator of their potential to do well in the course than their appearance on the Leinster Schools Cup team or their transition year trip to play Bob the Builder in Africa.
 

Analyzer

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Reading this, I have just realised that Trinners has gone completely silly.

But if they want this sort of entrant, then let them at it. Eventually, they will end up with all the noisy assertive students who are not so bright, and presumably the students with brains will go elsewhere.

Maybe Trinners is showing a serious aversion to academic intelligence. Something which we should not expect from a university, that claims to be number 1.
 

pandora

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I admit to a certain amount of scepticism when I read things, like Katherine Donnelly, the Irish Independent's Education Editor, recently writing that while the current points system "is often described as fair and transparent, it favours students who excel at exams". Isn't this a bit like complaining that the selection for the Cork minor hurling team favours students who are skilled in the use of a hurley and sliothar?
That is true but the difference is that favouring those who are skilled in the use of a hurley and sliothar produces a good hurling team, favouring those who do best at exams doesn't always produce good doctors, lawyers, teachers or whatever.
Many students who get the required points drop out after a year or two years, many more continue in a course they have neither interest in nor aptitude for rather than disappoint others. The points system would work if students did exactly what they are told to and ranked the courses in order of preference. In practice they put the 'prestige' courses with the higher points first, for fear of 'wasting' points and ending up on a course with lower points than they achieved, even if that is the course they really wanted.

Perhaps the only 'fair' way is random selection. Set the minimum entry requirements for a course and allocate the places at random among all those applying who reach that grade. If getting a place in medicine depended on luck there would be no reflected glory on parents and schools and the places might be left for those who want to be doctors rather than those who are good at passing exams.
 

ScreeOrTalus

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I'd be interested to know which individuals/groups are pushing this "holistic" thing.
 

Auntie Matter

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If getting a place in medicine depended on luck there would be no reflected glory on parents and schools and the places might be left for those who want to be doctors rather than those who are good at passing exams.
If someone wants to be a doctor, they'd better get good at passing exams because they'll be doing lots of them for many years. The exams that a doctor hoping to advance in a particular specialty will have to pass would make the Leaving Cert look like a primary school maths test by comparison.
 

Davidoff

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The points system is no level playing field. But it's impersonal, objective, transparent and a reasonably fair barometer of academic ability.

The 'holistic' approach is fine in theory. But it will end up being a backdoor route into university for well-connected kids too stupid to get the points required despite every assistance going.

Ross will get in because uncle Tony is a benefactor. Oisin will get in because his godfather is a professor. Sorcha will get in because the interviewer was at Mount Anville with her mother. Lorcan will get in because he was fly-half for 'The 'Rock' in the Leinster Schools Cup, etc. etc.

The one thing we absolutely do not need in this country is yet another set of rules to promote cronyism and protect the privileges of well-connected families.
 
Last edited:

mr. jings

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I'm sure there are some courses, e.g. Law, in which students could well struggle if they aren't sufficiently able in the old-fashioned academic sense, regardless of their other qualities.
Don't believe the hype about Law. Eight hours a week lectures, and we were told in first year that you pretty much had to make an effort to fail. All that stuff about all the reading you have to do is also bunk. Also, just because you can score highly points wise in school, doesn't mean you're either going to shine academically in third level or be particularly suited to a supposedly vocation type job in, say, medicine.
 

Auntie Matter

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Also, just because you can score highly points wise in school, doesn't mean you're either going to shine academically in third level or be particularly suited to a supposedly vocation type job in, say, medicine.
Just because you can play rugby well or can pay someone to write a personal statement for you doesn't mean you're either going to shine academically in third level or be particularly suited to a supposedly vocation type job in, say, medicine.
 

mr. jings

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Just because you can play rugby well or can pay someone to write a personal statement for you doesn't mean you're either going to shine academically in third level or be particularly suited to a supposedly vocation type job in, say, medicine.
In principle I could see a lot of merit in what TCD say they are trying to do although you're right in that the potential for abuse - especially in a country with a heavy dose of chronic cronyism - would make me wonder. I wouldn't write it off until I got a better window into criteria to be used and the transparency with which they are to be applied.
 

ManOfReason

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Trinity should get out of the state system and CAO althougher and become a private univerisity again. Reduce its numbers significantly, increase the educational experience and charge market value for a top class education. This would allow for them to offer scolarships to any deserving students while also being able to manage their own budget rather than relying on a bankrupt government to determine how much they get.
 

an modh coinniolach

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I read in yesterday's Irish Times that Trinity College no longer regards the objectivity of the points system as sufficiently predictive of academic success,justifying its decision to weigh "holistic" characteristics of students in entrance requirements.Apparently, holistic assessment is largely confined to affirmative action that sets quotas for students from lower socioeconomic groups who,though typically less well drilled academically than higher socioeconomic groups, are presumed to have abundant holistic native intelligence. I assume Trinity academic staff believe they are capable of discerning the desired holistic traits in brief interviews. Attractive personality probably ranks highly,along with a good command of verbal English. Other traits probably include evidence of leadership in social activities,such as captaining a club team,high levels of participation in hobbies,sports and voluntary activity and some evidence of creativity,such as interest in painting and participation in amateur musical or drama groups etc.

Barring evidence that Trinity's selection of students on holistic traits is roughly as effective as selection on points,it could be depriving students who have worked hard to earn Trinity's high points requirements of well deserved university places. Trinity has not disclosed how the holistic students have performed academically,however. I expect their dropout rates are well above average and that their academic performance is poor. I would like to be proved wrong.

Another problem is that holistic assessments can be gamed to an extent. Parents who would like their children to attend Trinity can encourage them in social activities that tick the holistic boxes.

Affirmative action in the US, which invented it, was designed to compensate black Americans for historic discrimination. The fiction was that black students benefitting from affirmative action had to be as good as whites before they were given priority in jobs and college entrances. In reality,black students at top US colleges generally found it very difficult to keep up academically and would have been happier attending less competitive four year universities,including all black universities in the US South. Politicians in many states have bought votes by extending affirmative action in education and jobs to several other visible racial minorities,mainly Mexican Americans of several generations standing and AmerIndians, but not to Asian Americans who are new arrivals since the 1960s,nor to Japanese Americans of many generations who are so successful they don't need it.Interesting formulas have been concocted by courts to determine if an affirmative action candidate has the legally correct racial qualifications.
Affirmative action has been subjected to legal challenges in the US,successfully in California,which has wound down the programme in legislation thanks to pressure from visible minority Asian Americans who were ineligible.

Which raises the question,will some rejected student at Trinity challenge the rejection in court?

What gives you the idea that the Leaving Cert is a test of skills that is relevant to university education? Perhaps in maths and the natural sciences it is, I don't know, but in the humanities and social sciences it appears, presumably in combination with a range of societal pressures, to develop semi-literate automtons who believe that they are entitled to a degree. Their captaining a sports team is only mildly less relevant to university life then their rote learning abilities.
 
R

Ramps

Don't believe the hype about Law. Eight hours a week lectures, and we were told in first year that you pretty much had to make an effort to fail. All that stuff about all the reading you have to do is also bunk. Also, just because you can score highly points wise in school, doesn't mean you're either going to shine academically in third level or be particularly suited to a supposedly vocation type job in, say, medicine.
Yeah, but what was the level of academic capability of the average student in your class?! Do you think that students who get 200 points in the LC could afford to be so blasé?!
 

stringjack

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The following letter in today's Irish Times expresses my concerns (more eloquently than I perhaps can) about the new admissions system being piloted by Trinity...
I used to think we needed the points system to determine admissions, but I am now convinced that we can dispense with it. I propose to replace the points system with a very simple and efficient test. Anyone who can identify the fallacious reasoning in this beautiful piece from John O'Flaherty of Inchicore Square South, Dublin 8, can have a place at Trinity. Everyone else can go to UCD.
 

mr. jings

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Yeah, but what was the level of academic capability of the average student in your class?! Do you think that students who get 200 points in the LC could afford to be so blasé?!
IMHO students with far lower points than the points requirements would be able to fare quite well in Law. Sure, put an absolute minimum requirement on the points/LC subject requirements for courses, but let's not kid ourselves that you need the hundreds of points requirement generated by the points market. Also, in my day, students with lower points, would often scrape into something like a Theology degree, arguably a far more diifficult course than Law.
 
S

simeongrimes

The points system is crude but if subjectivity is introduced into college admissions then corruption will surely follow. TDs will get calls from constituents. Who want their child to get on a course and the TDs will start making representations.

We would need a law that made interfering in the selection process a criminal offence leading to expulsion from elected office and a few months in prison.
 

Munnkeyman

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I used to think we needed the points system to determine admissions, but I am now convinced that we can dispense with it. I propose to replace the points system with a very simple and efficient test. Anyone who can identify the fallacious reasoning in this beautiful piece from John O'Flaherty of Inchicore Square South, Dublin 8, can have a place at Trinity. Everyone else can go to UCD.
Testing a new college admissions system - The Irish Times - Sat, Jan 19, 2013
 

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