As calculated grades were released by the Department of Education, offers from the Central Applications Office (CAO) were made on Friday September 11th 2020. There was a mixed reaction to these results and subsequent offers, which was exacerbated by a media frenzy, as it was the first ever year of the ‘calculated grades’ process. In terms of UCC undergraduate courses, there are sixty-four level 8 courses on offer. Forty-four of these courses saw points increase, Eleven saw points decrease and just one course’s points were unchanged. Six new or changed courses have been offered for the upcoming academic year.
This year, 80% of students received an offer from their top three preferences and 52% received their first preference in the first round, but there has been considerable upset and frustration amongst students nationally at the entire process. Last week saw the highest number of Leaving Cert appeals on record, even though the only appeal that can be made in respect of errors in the transmission and processing of data, not on the merit of the grade. Almost 12,300 students lodged appeals with the Department of Education.
An incoming UCC Student, Martha Woods, took a High Court case, on the basis that the standardisation of this year’s grades unjustly impacted on her ambition to pursue a career in dentistry. Ms. Woods, from Enniskeane in West Cork, achieved 613 points in the 2019 Leaving Certificate. Ms. Woods explained that the points rose from 590 to 613 this year to study Dentistry. Even though Ms. Woods satisfied entry requirements to obtain a place on the highly competitive course, it was oversubscribed. The final places were allocated on a random selection for students that had achieved 613 points. In this lottery, she was not offered a place in the first round and initiated judicial review proceedings.
Ms. Woods’ case was heard before Mr. Justice Charles Meenan earlier last week, who accepted it was a “very important” issue but he conveyed concern regarding the courts’ capacity to accommodate early hearings of a myriad of cases concerning the calculated grades process. As a result, he said that another Dublin based case initiated earlier this week will be the lead case for dealing with issues arising out of the 2020 Leaving Cert process.
Pearse Sreenan SC, barrister for Ms. Woods, explained that the grades achieved by the plaintiff in 2019, were assessed against a “completely different” system this year, given the 4.4% grade inflation that occurred. This meant that Ms. Woods was assessed “in the same basket” as applicants, who benefitted from grade inflation. This is a breach of her entitlement to equality, and an injustice and “imbalance” which the Department of Education, the CAO and UCC have taken no steps to address, he said.
In an affidavit presented to the court, Ms. Woods said she expected to obtain a place on this course, given the expectation that the Leaving Certificate results would be standardised and that she had 613 points, when points typically ranged lower for the course. Ms. Woods said she was “shocked and surprised” that points increased so significantly and was very disappointed that she was not offered a place. Though Ms Woods’ “absolute career choice is dentistry” she reluctantly accepted a place in Pharmacy, and would move to study Dentistry as soon as she could, even if that required reapplying to the CAO next year.
However, there has been light at the end of the tunnel for Ms. Woods as the case was heard again on Wednesday September 23rd 2020, following the release of second round offers. When the case returned before the judge today, he was told Ms. Woods has obtained a place on the UCC Dentistry course and was as a result withdrawing her case. More than 1700 students received second round offers for third-level places on Wednesday 23rd September 2020.