The delayed release of Leaving Cert results is putting a “huge strain” on students and universities and making it difficult for applicants to secure places in colleges abroad, Irish universities have warned.
Minister for Education Norma Foley said recently that the “best estimate” for the release of the 2023 Leaving Cert results is last year’s date of early September, although education sources have since said it could be earlier than this.
The Irish Universities Association (IUA) said timelines operated by the State Examinations Commission causes significant issues for the sizeable numbers of Leaving Cert students seeking to secure a college place in Northern Ireland or anywhere outside Ireland in a timely manner.
In addition, the later results do not allow the CAO and Irish universities to make earlier offers, resulting in difficulties for applicants from Northern Ireland with A-levels.
The association made the comments at an Oireachtas education committee meeting on Tuesday which examined cross-border student enrolment in further and higher education.
Cross-border student numbers have been falling, especially over the past decade.
The proportion of students from the Republic in higher education in Northern Ireland has fallen by about 50 per cent over the past decade, down from more than 4,000 in 2010 to just over 2,000 in 2021. Students from the North in the Republic have also dropped to a consistently low level of about 1 per cent, or 1,600 students, over recent years.
Lewis Purser, the Irish Universities Association’s director of academic affairs, said a consequence of the delay in Leaving Cert results means applicants from outside the State are significantly disadvantaged and will have received offers to universities in other jurisdictions first.
He also said the Department of Education needs to outline clearly how they will end grade inflation in Leaving Cert results and restore grade profiles to pre-Covid norms, as “all other EU countries have done”.
“This is important in terms of re-balancing A-level equivalence to Leaving Cert points,” he said.
“In a fluctuating situation, where Leaving Cert results continue to be ‘inflated’, it is very unfair for students applying from other types of systems. We have no indication of when results will return to pre-Covid normality, or indeed if they ever will. ”
He said without real cross-border cooperation and a commitment to reforming Leaving Cert exam and results time frames, any “real progress will remain hampered”.
The Universities Ireland Council – which represents universities on both sides of the Border – also said the need to ensure that A-level students’ grades translate fairly in terms of Leaving Cert points is crucial.
Ciarán Ó hOgartaigh, president of University of Galway and president of the Universities Ireland Council, said there is evidence that A-level grade equivalences are “anomalous and should be reviewed”.
“These differences are further exacerbated by evidence of a higher Covid and post-Covid grade inflation in the Leaving Cert than in the A-levels,:” he said.
He also noted that funding across the different jurisdictions meant that students faced very different experiences at college.
He noted that staff-student ratios in UK universities were as low as 12:1 and are significantly higher in the Republic.
Prof Ó hOgartaigh said these ratios will remain higher even, at about 15:1, after additional investment promised by the Government aimed at narrowing a funding gap over the coming years.
“Increased investment in higher education is, therefore, a prerequisite for a student experience that properly and decently serves and invests in student mobility and our students,” he said.