The number of applications for college places has matched last year’s high level and indicates the race for CAO points this year will be highly competitive.
The CAO recorded a total of 78,184 applications in advance of its normal application deadline which closed at 5pm on Wednesday.
This is similar to the 78,162 applications received at the same stage last year and is down slightly on the record high of 79,303 applications in 2021.
CAO points needed for entry to college courses are influenced by a range of factors including the supply and demand of places for individual courses, as well as grades achieved by applicants.
Minister for Education Norma Foley has indicated that there will not be a “cliff edge” drop in the profile of students’ Leaving Cert grades this year.
Instead, grade inflation is set to reduce in “stages” over the coming years in order not to disadvantage Leaving Cert students competing for college places against candidates with results from previous years.
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The use of predicted grades during the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in record high grades in recent years.
Despite a return to normal exams last year, grades remained at a higher than normal level in 2022 on foot of a Government commitment to keep them in line with the profile of grades awarded in 2021.
Latest CAO figures for 2023, meanwhile, do not represent the total number of expected college applicants for 2023, as a late application facility opens on March 6th and closes on May 1st at 5pm.
A free “change of mind” facility is due to open on May 5th and closes on July 1st, which will allow most applicants to adjust their college course choices.
If an applicant has forgotten to apply for a “restricted” course – typically a course which requires a portfolio or separate assessment – or if they are a mature applicant wishing to make changes to their courses, they will be able to avail of a “change of course choices” facility which opens on the February 3rd until March 1st for a €10 fee.
In addition, a late application facility can be used by most applicants between March 6th and May 1st. There is a €60 fee or online applications.
Separately, latest figures show the number of applicants choosing apprenticeships dropped slightly last year, despite a Government drive to increase registrations in the sector.
An Oireachtas education committee on Wednesday heard there was a total of 8,286 apprenticeship registrations in 2022, down 4 per cent on the previous year.
Sinn Féin’s Rose Conway-Walsh TD said she was surprised by the drop given the heavy focus last year on alternatives to college. She suggested that a greater focus may be needed on career guidance in schools.
Policymakers worry that an “obsession” with going to university means school leavers who would flourish in a more hands-on learning environment are being deflected from considering more vocational options such as PLCs and apprenticeships.
Minister of State for Further and Higher education Simon Harris has led a campaign to expand apprenticeships and ensure school leavers are exposed to both college and further education options on the CAO’s website.
Mr Harris’s colleague, Minister of State Niall Collins told the Oireachtas committee that, despite the dip in numbers last year, the total number of apprenticeships has climbed to 26,325, up 9 per cent.
Mr Collins also confirmed that there is still a “backlog” of almost 5,000 apprentices waiting more than six months to access to essential off-the-job training
The delays are linked to Covid-19 restrictions and have resulted in delayed qualifications for thousands of apprentices.