Major New Trinity Initiative to Increase Number of Northern Ireland Students

3 July 2014

Trinity has launched a ground-breaking new initiative to help triple the number of incoming students from Northern Ireland, as it re-asserts its historic mission as a University for the whole island. In response to a recent decline in numbers from Northern Ireland – in part caused by the fact that only 1 in 8 students in Northern Ireland take 4 A-Levels – Trinity has announced a feasibility study to find a new way of admitting A-Level applicants from across the EU, which will be tested in the first instance for applicants from Northern Ireland. 

It is intended that the new admissions route will dramatically increase the number of students from Northern Ireland admitted in September 2015, as Trinity looks to reach the eventual target of 8% of the student body being from Northern Ireland. 

The new admissions route recognises the unique role Trinity has played in bringing together different traditions over the centuries, and attempts to address the recent decline in the numbers admitted from Northern Ireland. As the Provost of Trinity, Dr Patrick Prendergast, stated recently at the inauguration of Pro-Chancellor Sir Donnell Deeny, founder of the Ireland Chair of Poetry, and judge in Northern Ireland: “We must all aim to reverse this decline in Northern Irish numbers. Trinity has been, since its foundation in 1592, an all-island university and that must be maintained.” 

The Provost says that he developed this initiative because it was “something important for the whole island of Ireland. Trinity has historically been a university for the whole island, attracting students with ability and potential from every county. Unfortunately in the last few years our numbers from Northern Ireland have been in decline, and this has been a source of deep regret to our alumni, our students, our staff, and to me personally.  With this feasibility study Trinity has acted to restore and re-establish a relationship that has done so much to build close links on this island between people from all backgrounds and traditions.”

During the past year Trinity has embarked on an ambitious Northern Ireland Engagement Programme (NIEP), visiting schools and careers fairs across Northern Ireland with student ambassadors from the current study community, and reconnecting with schools, parents, teachers and alumni. The feasibility study draws on that work by seeking to remove one of the biggest obstacles – the fact that only 1 in 8 students in Northern Ireland take 4 A-Levels.

In the year ahead (for admission in September 2015) Trinity will admit a number of students from Northern Ireland looking purely at the best 3 A-Levels of the applicant. All courses are included (except Medicine because of the HPAT requirements), but a maximum of 3 students per course will be admitted using this route. Students from Northern Ireland are also eligible for all the regular places which will be filled in the usual way using CAO points.  Applicants are eligible for the feasibility study regardless of whether they are taking 3 or 4 (or more) A-Level subjects. A requirement is that applicants must secure a minimum of ABB in their best 3 A-Levels. Applicants will then be ranked on merit, with the available places going to those with the highest grades in their best 3 subjects.

Praising this initiative, Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn TD, said that:

"An all-island approach to education brings immense benefits to both societies. I am delighted to see Trinity finding innovative ways to attract students from Northern Ireland to study here at third level. I know that the university sector as a whole continues to work collectively towards enhancing opportunities for Northern Irish students to enter Irish university programmes. I very much welcome this collaborative approach."

This view was shared by the Minister for Education in Northern Ireland, Mr John O’Dowd, who said: I welcome this initiative from Trinity which will make studying there much more accessible to students from the north. I am pleased that the necessity for applicants from the north to have 4 A levels is being relaxed, as this has been one of the main barriers in the past. I look forward to similar approaches being taken by the other universities in the south.” 

Much work has been done between the two administrations on the island to address the issue of student mobility, and the Minister for Employment and Learning, Dr Stephen Farry, said: “Cross-border co-operation and undergraduate mobility between institutions in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are important from an economic, social and cultural perspective. I welcome this announcement by Trinity College Dublin which supports greater cross-border student mobility.

“I am committed to working on an all-Ireland basis to remove barriers to student mobility and to supporting cross-border co-operation in teaching and learning, with the aim of increasing understanding, sharing good practice and enabling students to move freely between the two jurisdictions.”

In turn, Trinity noted the great support of the three Ministers in the two jurisdictions and their respective departments.

The Provost noted that this is not just about student mobility from north to south: “We are keen to support student mobility across the whole island, from south to north as well as north to south. As President of the IUA (Irish Universities Association), I am working with my counterpart in the Institutes of Technology Ireland (IOTI), President Paul Hannigan, and colleagues in Northern Ireland, to see how we might best support student mobility on the island, recognising the vital political, cultural, and social benefits such mobility brings.”

Since taking office in August 2011 the Provost has made reform of the system of university admissions a key part of his work, looking to ensure that Trinity admits students with ability and potential from every county on the island, as well as from around the world.


A maximum of three places per course are available through this feasibility study. Smaller courses will have 1-2 places available, larger courses will have 3. The target is to eventually admit 300 students a year from Northern Ireland, or 8% of the student body.

Applicants who do not receive places through the feasibility study will also be eligible for places filled in the regular way.

Medicine is not included in the study because of HPAT and other requirements agreed by the sector which demand a minimum of 480 points before being considered for entry.

During the study Trinity will test a number of things, including:

  • the number of overall applications from Northern Ireland
  • the level of interest in particular courses
  • the number of offers compared to the number of acceptances
  • how a different mechanism for calculating the points for admission might be extended more broadly to A-Levels applicants in England, Scotland and Wales, and what the implications would be in terms of numbers
  • how many (hypothetically) would be admitted if the points scores were calculated differently (for example, if for 3 A-Level candidates the weakest or strongest subject was counted as double, or if an average of the best 3 A-Levels was used to compensate for students without a fourth A-Level.

The results of the study will be shared with the sector, and will help inform ongoing attempts to address the issue of A-Level admissions.  

Media Coverage:

BBC, July 4, 2014

Irish Times, July 4, 2014

RTE, July 4, 2014

Irish Independent, July 4, 2014

Belfast Telegraph, July 4, 2014

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