An extra 5,000 university places are set to be created for the 2021/2022 academic year, according to Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris.
Last year, 2,225 additional university places had to be introduced during the Central Applications Office (CAO) rounds of offers due to the Leaving Certificate controversy, as a calculated grades system was put in place following the Covid-19 outbreak, leaving sixth-year students unable to sit the traditional examinations.
Due to the calculated grades system, Ireland saw the highest Leaving Certificate grades on record, with an increase of 4.4% from 2019. This in turn increased the demand for extra university places.
Harris told the Dáil that these new places will be available again for first-year students in the next academic year and that what happened last year was not “just a blitz.”
The Minister then added that he also secured budget funding for over 2,000 additional places, which brings the total to just under 5,000 for the 2021/2022 academic year.
These extra places are to facilitate high-demand courses in areas such as medicine, nursing, law, science and business as Leaving Certificate points are predicted to increase again this year.
The news comes with the growing uncertainty about this year’s Leaving Certificate examinations and whether they will take place in a traditional format, or if predicted grades will be implemented once more.
This year’s sixth-year students are also the first to go through almost all of the Leaving Certificate curriculum online due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, there is additional pressure on Minister for Education Norma Foley from Government backbenchers, who want to offer Leaving Certificate students the option of either utilising the predicted grade system or sitting written exams in June.
Foley told the Dáil that her advisory group will continue to work on all available options, and that she empathises with students about the difficulties and uncertainties which they are facing.
“We are listening very closely to the student voice and to all of the student voices, which are well represented at all of our stakeholder engagements,” she said.
While the Irish Second-Level Students Union (ISSU) have called for an alternative to the traditional exams to be implemented, the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) continue to insist that the usual written exams have to take place this year.
Image Credit: DCU