Other Questions. - Points System.

Ruairí Quinn


8 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science the status of the report on the points system; the action he proposes to take on its recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2777/01]

The report of the Commission on the Points System, which was published in December 1999, represented the culmination of two years of intensive research, discussion and debate on the system of selection for entry to third level education. The report makes recommendations on a wide range of issues, including lifelong learning, access to third level education for mature students, students from disadvantaged backgrounds and students with disabilities, entry to health care courses, the leaving certificate grading and points system and many other topics.

The report recommends that the points system be retained on the basis that it is well established, broadly fair and transparent and generally accepted by the public at large. Nonetheless, the report identified a number of weaknesses and drawbacks in the current system and it contains detailed proposals aimed at addressing them.

Since the report was published, my Department has held consultations with the Higher Education Authority, third level institutions and other interested parties with a view to considering and implementing, where appropriate, the proposals contained in the report. A number of key issues have been addressed and I will mention some of these.

Regarding access to third level education for disadvantaged-mature students, in September last year I established an action group on access to third level education, chaired by Dr. Cormac MacNamara. I asked the group to advise me on the development of a co-ordinated national framework to promote the participation at third level of students with disabilities, students from disadvantaged backgrounds and mature "second chance" students, building on the experience of current initiatives. I understand the action group has completed its deliberations and I expect to receive its report in the near future.

Regarding a special rate of maintenance grant, as an indication of the Government's support in promoting equity in access and as an initial step, pending the findings of the action group, last September I announced the introduction of a special maintenance grant payable to disadvantaged maintenance grant holders, targeted at those most in need.

Additional Information.Regarding entry to health care courses, my Department has requested the Higher Education Authority to establish a committee to explore the issue of introducing a preliminary third level course in life sciences as a prerequisite for entry into the health care courses. Regarding bonus marks for answering through Irish, following careful consideration of the recommendation in the commission's report that the bonus marks for answering through Irish in the leaving certificate should be abolished, I have decided nonetheless to retain the current system of awarding bonus marks. In taking this decision, I took account of the wider issues of public policy towards the Irish language.

Many of the other recommendations in the commission's report fall within the responsibility of third level institutions themselves. The Higher Education Authority is currently pursuing these with the relevant institutions and I have asked the authority to keep me informed of ongoing progress in this regard.

Regarding the three main areas identified in the report – the participation of people from disadvantaged backgrounds, mature students and people with disabilities – will the Minister give the current participation rates in each case? What target rates has he set?

A task force was set up to examine this area and come forward with proposals. If the Deputy had asked about the participation rates in his question, I would have provided that information. However, I will get that information for Deputy Shortall if she wishes.

They are the main areas covered by the report.

In any event, the position is that the task force will report shortly. We will then set about the work in that area.

That will be a second report. Will the Minister give a commitment that he will implement the findings and recommendations of the task force? A number of the recommendations in the report on the points system could have been acted on, but the Minister set up a task force. Will he give an assurance that he will not set up an implementation group or any other type of working party or advisory committee and that he will act on the recommendations? Will he publish the report of the task force as soon as it is available?

I will publish the report. It will go to the Government first, but I will publish it immediately afterwards. I do not know what the report contains so I cannot answer the Deputy's questions about implementation. I must bring the matter to Government first, but the plan is to implement the findings of the task force and to target the resources in accordance with those findings.