Extra 1,000 CAO places aim to take heat out of points race

Harris says new places in nursing, IT, architecture, construction, engineering, education and welfare courses

Just over 1,000 additional college places will be offered through the CAO this year in a bid to take some of the heat out of the points race.

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said the extra 1,056 places were being targeted in areas such as nursing, IT, architecture, construction, engineering, education and welfare. All of these additional places will be a permanent addition to the system.

The announcement comes as points requirements for college courses look set to match last year’s record levels, with places on some high-demand courses likely to be decided at random.

Last year saw a sharp increase in the use of random selection – essentially a lottery system – to award high-demand college places in courses such as medicine, health sciences, commerce and engineering.

For example, just more than 40 per cent of college courses that required 550 points or more used random selection last year.

Some students who received the maximum points possible – 625 – ended up losing out on their first-choice college places last year after places were awarded this way.

Government sources are hopeful that additional places could ease some of the upward points pressure across courses where additional places are being provided.

Among the factors driving CAO points are high numbers of college applicants and the Government’s pledge that the grade profile of Leaving Cert results this year will be “no lower” than last year’s inflated results.

Mr Harris also confirmed that he would shortly seek approval at Cabinet for an increase in the number of doctors being trained over the coming years.

It is understood that the five-year plan aims to increase the number of places on medical courses by 200 – an increase of a third – by 2025.

About 120 of these places are due to be provided over the coming two years, starting with the next academic year in September.

Some of the additional places will be reserved for priority groups under the new national access plan that aims to ensure new entrants come from a diversity of social backgrounds.

A Government decision last year to create thousands of extra college places resulted in a sharp drop in the number of school-leavers choosing further education and training courses.

However, Government sources say the targeted nature of this year’s additional places aims to lessen this impact.

Mr Harris said on Tuesday he was delighted to announce additional college places which were a “constant concern for Leaving Cert students”.

“This year we have made a real effort to make sure that they are in sought-after courses, and ones that will produce graduates with the skills our country is crying out for.

“Some examples of courses receiving extra places this year include IT, architecture and construction, nursing, engineering, education and welfare.

“After a stressful number of weeks for school-leavers, I hope today will offer some good news about the weeks ahead.”

He also provided an update on 16 new apprenticeship programmes which are due to start later this year.

They include roofing and cladding; robotics and automation; and a degree programme in cybersecurity.

In addition, for those who choose a Post-Leaving Cert course, the €200 levy has been abolished from this September.

“While these extra CAO places are a vital and welcome development, it is essential we continue to expand our third-level system for everyone. There must be multiple pathways that learners can take as they prepare for their chosen careers,” Mr Harris said.

“That’s why we are working hard to introduce new apprenticeship programmes, such as the ones in bar managing and wind turbine maintenance which we launched in March, and we have also improved the financial incentives on offer to employers to take on apprentices, particularly female ones.”

He said his department was also working to improve pathways from further to higher education as part of our “unified tertiary system” strategy.

“There should be no barriers for students who want to pursue their chosen educational and career goals,” he said.

“Students anxiously awaiting their Leaving Cert results should know that while their points are important, they alone will not determine whether they can succeed in their education and career ambitions.

“There are different routes to getting where you want to go, and we are working hard to ensure they are accessible to everyone.”

Last year a record 8,607 new apprentices were registered in the apprenticeship system, an increase of nearly 40 per cent compared with 2019. The Government is aiming to increase these numbers to 10,000 by 2025.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent