Trinity will significantly drop the academic requirements for non-EU students next year in a bid to cushion the financial blow from the coronavirus, accepting some students whose predicted grades equate to just 80 per cent of the CAO points required for their course, The University Times has learned.
Documents obtained by The University Times reveal a major plan to change Trinity’s processes for admitting international students next year – including making offers to students based on predicted grades, and lowering its entry requirements – as a result of the coronavirus.
The plan was put in place due to the cancellation of final exams for second-level students around the world – but it also forms a key part of the College’s strategy to alleviate the financial issues it faces due to the virus, internal documents show.
In normal times, Trinity makes offers to non-EU students – a vital source of revenue for the College – whose grades equate to 90 per cent of the CAO points required for a given course.
For example, if a student who applies through the CAO needs 500 points to get into a certain course course, then a non-EU student can receive a conditional offer for the same course if their predicted grades equate to 450 points.
Next year, many non-EU students – most of whom won’t have taken final exams as a result of the coronavirus – will be issued final offers based on their predicted grades, even if those grades only equate to 80 per cent of the CAO points required for the course.
For a 500-point course, this means non-EU students from certain countries will only need to obtain predicted grades that equate to 400 CAO points.
The measure was approved at a meeting of University Council last month, unpublished minutes show, after Provost Patrick Prendergast “explained the need for Trinity to have a robust system for recruiting non-EU students in light of the financial challenges facing the College” due to the pandemic.
The plan forms a key part of a financial strategy – presented at a meeting of College Board and obtained by The University Times – that warns Trinity could run out of cash by September 2021 unless major mitigating measures are put in place.
The report, penned by Trinity’s Emergency Financial Management Group, highlights non-EU fee income as a “mitigating measure” when it comes to managing the drastic financial implications of the virus.
At the meeting of Council – which controls Trinity’s academic affairs – Juliette Hussey, College’s vice-president for Global Affairs, said that Trinity needed to change its admissions criteria for non-EU students due to the cancellation of second-level exams around the world.
Hussey proposed dropping the entry requirements to 80 per cent “in countries where predicted grades have strong predictive validity”.
In countries that don’t use predicted grades, or where predicted grades don’t have strong predictive validity, firm offers will be issued on a more case-by-case basis, the minutes suggest.
Before the plan was approved, Hussey told Council that “extensive engagement with those provided offers will take place”.
In an interview with The University Times this week, Hussey said that Trinity is not worried about a potential lowering of academic standards as a result of the decision. Predicted grades, she said, “tend to be a good reflection” of students’ level. She added that the move is “similar to what we’re doing with the leaving cert”.
Hussey said that she does not see the new 80 per cent cut off as lowering standards required for admission. “It’s not really that we’re lowering it, we’re finding a mechanism for which to admit the students but it’s not really a lowering of it because we always made offers on actual grades rather than on any predicted ones.”
“There’s no lowering at all. It’s finding a mechanism. There’s no lowering at all – those applicants would have submitted their final examinations like a leaving certificate student would have their final examinations.”
In normal times, she said, the reason Trinity makes conditional offers to those whose predicted grades equate to 90 per cent of required CAO points is to give “clarity” to international students.
“You don’t want to be switching and changing your points each year, because if you’re informing prospective students, they need to know in advance what they’re going to be.”
This newspaper reported earlier this week that Trinity risks running out of cash by September 2021 if strict cutbacks are not implemented in the coming months.
A confidential report – presented at College Board and seen by The University Times – showed that in the worst-case scenario, the impact of the coronavirus could see Trinity’s unrestricted cash plummet into the red by the summer of 2021.
Last week, in response to a plea from the Higher Education Authority for a “significant government intervention in the form of a financial support package”, the government warned that it could not cover financial losses faced by third-level colleges due to the pandemic.
In April, writing in the Irish Times, Prendergast said that the coronavirus is likely to “almost wipe out” the income universities make from international student fees.