Written answers

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Department of Education and Skills

Third Level Admissions

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Louth, Labour)
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1148. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills his views on the approximately 20,000 college applicants who applied for courses in 2021 on the basis of leaving certificate results achieved in previous years and who consequently may have been disadvantaged with respect to CAO points required for entry to their given courses due to disproportionate grade inflation relative to other years; if he is making provisions for those students who may have been denied a placement under such circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15186/21]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are autonomous and manage their own academic affairs including admissions procedures. The CAO process applications for undergraduate courses on behalf of the HEIs. Decisions on admissions are made by the HEIs who then instruct the CAO to make offers to successful candidates. As such, neither I nor my Department have a role in the operation of the CAO.

The CAO system is a system that works on the assumption that grades obtained in the Leaving Certificate by candidates determine their points. It is on this basis that the CAO system allocates places to applicants including those from different years. To ensure impartiality, the automatic CAO points systems have been created in a way that does not allow for different treatment to be applied to different sub-groups.

In order to help mitigate the impact of the changes to the grading system I announced the creation of an additional 2,225 places on high-demand courses in Higher Education Institutions in 2020. These places were provided in order ensure that as many students as possible could be accommodated on a course of their choice, given the unprecedented circumstances they faced.

Nonetheless, there were fluctuations in CAO points in 2020, as there are every year. The changes in points depended not only on the grades received by applicants but also on the number of applicants, and the number of places available. As we are in the midst of a global pandemic and economic flux, there was more volatility than usual due to factors such as reduced opportunities in the economy and uncertainty around students travelling internationally both to and from Ireland, as well as the stronger than usual set of results as a consequence of the use of Calculated Grades.

€18 million has been provided in Budget 2021 to deliver new undergraduate student places from September 2021 which will address demographic growth pressures. These places are in addition to additional places funded through the Human Capital Initiative Pillar 2, which will be on undergraduate courses in areas of identified skills needs.

I know how difficult a time it has been for students and parents, and I appreciate how disappointing it can be for a student not to receive an offer for their course of choice, but I would like to stress the range of options available both in further education and training and apprenticeships, but also in pathways in higher education. For those whose route into higher education may not be what they originally planned, the range of options available may provide a pathway back to their preferred option.


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