Extra medicine and pharmacy college places confirmed by department

Harris plans to provide 4,500 additional third-level places as demand increases

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris aims to create 4,500 extra third-level places. Photograph: Michelle Devane/PA Wire

Extra places in universities for medicine and pharmacy students will be included in a plan by Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris to create 4,500 extra third-level places.

The news comes after it emerged that the points needed for some high-demand courses will rise as students who sat the written Leaving Cert last November take up places now offered to them.

Confirming that extra medicine and pharmacy places will be created, a spokesperson for Mr Harris was unable, however, to say how many. Last year, 2,250 extra places were created.

Talks are under way between the Department of Further and Higher Education, the Higher Education Authority and the universities to " identify where there is scope" for additions, the official said.

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Meanwhile, the department emphasised to students that options beyond universities exist, including further education, training and apprenticeships.

“For students who are not successful in gaining an offer for their course of choice in the first instance, there are alternate routes available to them to reach their preferred option,” The Irish Times was told.

Bigger issue

The offers to 2020 applicants of places in higher-point courses this September because of improved results in last November’s written exams is but one factor driving up points, according to one of Ireland’s medical faculties.

However, a bigger issue in medicine and pharmacy courses is the doubling of applications from citizens in other EU states, who no longer want to study in the United Kingdom.

Pressure on the CAO points requirements is also exacerbated by the structure of the assessment process now in place for the 2021 Leaving Certificate class.

The State Examinations Commission is currently standardising the marks submitted by teachers for their classes, ahead of the marking of scripts submitted by some of those students in written exams.

The assessed grade process, which took place in 2020, resulted in a profile of awards which at higher levels were on average 10 per cent ahead of 2019, resulting in a substantial increase in CAO points requirements in many courses.

The decision by Mr Harris to create more than 2,000 extra places reduced the net effect of this grade inflation to an average of 5 per cent in many high-points courses.

Once the assessed grades process is completed in August the results, for any student whose grade in any written paper taken in June 2021 is better than the standardised one, will be amended upwards.

However, admissions experts expect that students who participated fully in the June written exams will be awarded higher CAO results than they received by assessment, thus spurring grade inflation in 2021.

This anticipated increase in CAO points requirements is of huge concern to the thousands of applicants who are competing for places based on previous Leaving Cert exams.

Concern

It is also of great concern to Dr Rory O Sullivan, chair of FET Colleges Ireland. "Further Education and Colleges Ireland continues to be concerned that the grade inflation that occurred last year following the calculated grades system will be repeated this year. In 2020 this grade inflation resulted in many FE students being significantly disadvantaged in receiving CAO offers. This was particularly the case with the Institutes of Technology, which inexplicably continue to place a 390 CAO points ceiling on further education applicants.

“With grade inflation, the CAO points rose, resulting in courses for which FE applicants normally received offers going above this arbitrary 390 ceiling. In this regard FE students were doubly disadvantaged. Indeed, in the context of the high drop-out rates from some higher-education courses, and the proven benefits of a PLC course on increasing the completion rates in higher education, the continued existence of this 390 ceiling can no longer be justified.

“It is to be hoped that Minister Harris’s proposals on having further education courses listed in the CAO, and the pending publication of the new national equity of access to higher education plan, will result in the removal such clear inequities in the system.”