UNIVERSITY presidents have warned that controversial changes in the selection method for entry to medicine could be challenged by disappointed students.
The new HPAT system introduced an aptitude test, combining this with a maximum of 560 — out of a possible 600 — Leaving Certificate points.
But the heads of the four major universities have questioned the validity of the test, and about the way outstanding performance in the Leaving Certificate has been devalued.
They warned that a student on 590 points could fail to get a place while “students with 550 points, who achieve one more mark on a new, single, short, multiple-choice test with limited validation will be admitted to medical school”.
Their previously unpublished reservations are contained in documents released to the Irish Independent under Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.
The documents released under FoI outline a battle of wills between the universities and former education minister Mary Hanafin about where Leaving Certificate points should be capped in the new arrangement.
And Ms Hanafin reluctantly signed off on the deal in an email to a senior Department of Education official in October 2007 stating: “Looks like the best offer available so run with it please but they better get it through!” — a reference to the legal requirement for change to be agreed by the colleges’ academic councils.
Under the aptitude test this year, some school-leavers attaining up to 600 points failed to gain entry to medicine, while other students on 520 points with a good HPAT score got in.
In recent years, increasing competition for a place in medicine pushed the minimum points required to 570.
A desire to reduce pressure on students and broaden access to medicine motivated the change to the system.
Ms Hanafin pushed for an upper limit of 550, in the interests of maximising access, while the universities said it should be no lower than 570. Originally, they wanted some credit also given for points above 570.
The university heads agreed that a perfect or near-perfect Leaving Certificate was not necessary to be a good doctor.
But they argued that this did not mean that outstanding students should be given no extra credit for that performance. “We believe that to do so undermines the value of scholarship.”
– Katherine Donnelly