FINE Gael deputy Patrick O’Donovan has said he remains unsatisfied with answers he received at the Public Accounts Committee, where he queried the “absolute scandal” of universities inflating points for courses.
Deputy O’Donovan said he remains concerned that “some students are being deprived of college places because universities and third level institutions, which we are funding, are inflating points to keep them attractive and give them a reputation they do not necessarily deserve.”
Tom Boland, the chief executive of the Higher Education Authority, who was also before the committee, said he believes that the practice has now ended and said the HEA did not investigate the matter, and has no intention to do so. Asked by Deputy O’Donovan if institutions were leaving places unfilled to keep points at a certain threshold, Mr Boland replied: “I do not know if there is any strong evidence of that.”
“Did you not feel at any stage that there was something wrong with the practice of universities and colleges doing that under the noses of the HEA, and that it stank a bit?” asked Deputy O’Donovan.
“It was very much a minority practice,” replied Mr Boland.
Deputy O’Donovan continued his line of questioning asked if the matter was or would be investigated, given that third-level institutions are largely funded by the HEA.
Mr Boland said they would not be investigating the matter because he believes “it was very much a minority practice and I also believe it has now ceased”.
“We do not know that it has ceased,” replied Deputy O’Donovan, “and we do not know it was a minority practice if it has not been investigated. Are there any plans to look at this? I think it is an absolute scandal.”
“As I sit here today there are no plans to further look at it,” said Mr Boland.
Deputy O’Donovan said “there is an onus on the Department of Education and Skills to check”.
Speaking to the Limerick Leader, the deputy said he was not aware if any third level institutions in Limerick were involved in this practice, nor has it come to his attention to date.
He said the replies he received were “less than satisfactory” and he intends to raise the matter again at the PAC this Thursday.
Deputy O’Donovan was responding to reports in the Sunday Business Post last month, which reported that a working group had found that colleges will keep some seats vacant on a high-points courses, instead of lowering requirements to fill capacity.
Last year Prof Philip Nolan, president of NUI Maynooth and chair of the Irish Universities Association’s task group on reform of university selection and entry, admitted that colleges have been artificially inflating points by offering courses with a small student intake.
He said “all of us have become embroiled in a system where we’ve been using the points system . . . to try to attract students in”. He said there is competition because of a public perception that a 500-point course is better than a 400-point course.