Dramatic increase in demand for college places


DEMAND FOR college places this year has increased dramatically, raising the prospect of increased college admission points for students this year.

By last Friday, the Central Applications Office (CAO) had already received 16,000 applications – a 14 per cent increase on the same week last year. Last night, career experts said we are seeing a return to a 1980s-style “points race”; even a 5 per cent increase in demand at the end of the CAO process will, they say, put upward pressure on points. The initial closing date for applications – February 1st is still three weeks away.

The CAO has seen the surge in demand – as mature learners, the unemployed and increasingly students from England join the scramble for college places.

As yet, the CAO has no indication as to the disciplines proving popular with students this year.

Last year two-thirds of the 70 most popular honours degree courses showed an increase in points. Points moved up for virtually all higher-level courses in science, computing, agriculture, medicine and nursing. Points are rising because third-level colleges are struggling to cope with the huge demand for places. Last year, college applications for higher-level courses reached record levels, up from 64,774 to 67,640.

There had been speculation the new €2,000 student contribution fee (up from €1,500 last year) would dampen student demand. But colleges say there is no evidence of this, as yet.

Record demand for college places is being driven by several other factors including;

The high levels of unemployment and the scarcity of apprenticeships training opportunities;

Increasing demand from mature learners aged 23 or over who are returning to education;

Growing interest from students in England where college fees have risen in some cases to €9,000. (Under EU law, students from England are charged the same rate as Irish students.)

Colleges say there is little sign the “new points race” will ease over the next decade.

The Government-commissioned Hunt Report on the third-level sector, published tomorrow, says the number of new entrants to higher education will increase from 42,000 in 2009 to 65,000 by 2025. It says “the bulk of increased demand will come from late entrants, mature students, international students and greater demand for postgraduate study.’’ It predicts only a marginal increase in applications from school leavers over this period.

There has been speculation that some colleges could move to impose a “cap” on student numbers if current trends persist.

UCD president Dr Hugh Brady has said the quality of undergraduate education cannot be maintained if funding levels are not increased to reflect the greatly increased numbers of undergraduate admissions.

Minister for Education Mary Coughlan will launch the Hunt Report at the National Convention Centre tomorrow. The report – originally commissioned by former education minister Batt O’Keeffe – was submitted to Ms Coughlan six months ago but the long delay in its publication has still to be explained. The report backs new student fees and a student loan scheme to help ease the funding pressures across the third-level system.