A record 84,000 prospective students have applied for college places in Ireland for the upcoming academic year, 2021/22.
The latest figures follow the May 1 deadline for late applications.
The record figure is thought to be due to a combination of factors, including demographic increase, an rise in overseas applicants due to Brexit, and mature students encouraged by the pandemic to return to education.
According to data released by the CAO in February following the normal closing date for applications, international applications to Irish third-level institutions have increased.
Prospective students applying from other EU countries rose by 139% and British applications by 26%. There was also a 17% increase in international applicants from elsewhere, although non-EU/EEA students apply directly to colleges of their choice.
Trinity reported a 38% increase in first-preference applications, with 10,253 prospective students opting for College as their first choice in the upcoming academic year.
Overall applications also rose by 32%, with 22,729 including Trinity in their CAO application.
Based on the February figures, CAO applications for science and environmental courses have continued to climb this year. First-preference applications for environmental courses rose by 70%, the largest increase amongst CAO subjects, though the number of applications remains relatively small.
Applications also rose for medicine by 25%, biological sciences by 21%, hygiene and occupational health by 43%, social sciences by 27% and pharmacy by 26%.
Reversing previous trends, first-preference applications for Arts has risen by 11%, and journalism by 58%. Applications in Arts and Humanities courses fell last year, while remaining some of the most popular at third level.
Last year, a record 79,000 applied through the CAO. A significant increase in College applications were similarly for ‘high-points’ courses such as law, veterinary medicine, dentistry, and physiotherapy.
In May and June 2020, over half of CAO applicants adjusted their choices. This followed the decision that Leaving Cert exams were being replaced with predicted grades, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
As was the case last year, grade inflation and an increase in CAO points is expected among this year’s Leaving Cert students. Students have the choice of receiving accredited grades based on teachers’ predictions, sitting the written exams, or both. Those who opt to sit exams and receive accredited grades will receive the higher result.
A record demand of applicants combined with grade inflation will place further pressure on the provision of third-level courses, especially the high-demand courses with limited places.
Government hopes to provide around 4,000 extra third-level places to counter the pressure of growing demand and grade inflation.
There is debate over where the additional places will go. According to the Irish Times, government wants the extra spaces to be awarded in areas of demand, such as health, law, business, science, the environment and journalism.
Meanwhile, higher education sources speaking to the Irish Times warned that certain popular courses, such as medicine, dentistry, engineering, are already at capacity, due to limited lab space and clinical placements.
The allocation of the additional places is due to be discussed this week at a meeting of the Cabinet committee on education.