Simon Harris to seek approval for an additional 4,600 college places for this upcoming semester

Funding for extra places in health sciences, law and other disciplines to be discussed by Cabinet today.

Today, a proposal to fund just over 4,600 additional college places is to be discussed by the Cabinet. 

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris is to seek government approval for €24 million to fund the extra places in Irish third-level institutions. 

The additional places include 450 in science subjects, and 440 in health sciences such as medicine, pharmacy and nursing. 120 extra places are to be created in education courses, and 102 in law. More places are also to be allocated in business, media studies and veterinary. 

There has been a significant 9% increase in college applications for the upcoming academic year, with a record 84,526 prospective students applying to Level 8 or Level 6/7 courses. 

There was an increase in overseas and mature applicants, with 5,256 applications from other EU countries, 968 from Great Britain and 1,431 from Northern Ireland. 

The Central Applications Office (CAO) reported a rise in applications in medicine, pharmacy, environment, biological sciences and social sciences. While applications in Arts and Humanities fell last year, first-preference choices for these subjects also rose this year. 

Due to the rise in applications, CAO points are expected to increase this year for high-demand courses. 

Compounding this issue, students who sat the written Leaving Certificate in November will take up their places this coming semester. 

Leaving Certificate grade inflation is expected again this year, due to the choice of assessment given to school leavers in response to the pandemic. 

This year, sixth year students were given the option to sit written examinations, receive Accredited Grades, or both. Students who opt for both will receive the higher result, when exam grades are issued on Friday September 3.

In September 2020, Harris announced the creation of an additional 2,225 places in high demand courses, following the highest leaving certificate grades given to 2020 school leavers. 

In October 2020, Harris secured €30 million for 14,000 higher education places without fees, or with reduced fees. The funding provided places in short, modular courses and postgraduate courses, aiming to support workers affected by Covid-19 in upskilling. 

In addition to seeking funding for more third-level spaces, today Harris will update the government on expanding further education and apprenticeship options.  

He is also to discuss ongoing workforce planning for the health service with the Department of Health, on increasing the number of students studying healthcare. 

Lecturers speaking to the Irish Examiner warned that the surge in applications means that “too many” students may not get their desired course, and that teaching resources are “overstretched.”  

A 2018 report by the Department of Education projected a 25% increase in demand for third-level places between 2019 and 2029.

Incoming general secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) Frank Jones told the union’s annual delegate conference: “That is the equivalent of one and a half University College Dublins being added to the system, without new lecturing staff, without added funding, and without any sign of a plan.” 

The additional places have also raised concerns over insufficient student accommodation and a return to in-person learning. 

Harris has promised that students will return to college campuses in September, even in the event that they have not all been vaccinated against Covid-19. 

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that LC results are being released on September 7. In fact, they are being released on September 3. Trinity News apologises for the error.

Sarah Emerson

Sarah Emerson is is a Staff Writer for Trinity News, and a Junior Sophister English Literature and Jewish and Islamic Civilizations Student.