Irish education minister Michael Martin has backed proposals for radically changing the training of health-care professionals.
If the proposals are implemented, they would mean that students would take a common health-care or life sciences course at undergraduate level, after which they would specialise in medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry or pharmacy.
Mr Martin is to open discussions with the universities and other institutions to see if agreement can be reached on the proposals, which were first suggested by Martin Newell, director of the Central Applications Office.
There is, however, no certainty that an agreement will be forthcoming as the proposals represent a radical break with tradition.
The CAO handles applications for all the third-level colleges and Dr Newell's proposals were submitted to a commission set up two years ago to review methods of selecting applicants for higher education. The commission said there was merit in Dr Newell's suggestion and recommended that the issue be explored further.
The health-care courses have a significance out of proportion to the 2 per cent of all admissions they represent. Dr Newell said two-thirds of those who score maximum points in the school leaving certificate annually opt for one or other of the health-care courses.
Candidates who are expected to do well are under pressure from parents and schools to apply for health-care training rather than the arts, sciences, business or
He said that the competition for admission to "prestige" courses could affect the entire school environment and schools were often judged by the number of their pupils who "got into medicine".
"It is reasonable to postulate that if health-care courses were removed from the general third-level admissions system, entry standards would take on a more reasonable appearance and leaving certificate students would benefit from a less pressurised environment," said Dr Newell.