Leaving Cert results and college offers may be issued later than normal this year, a move that universities fear could delay the start of the academic year for thousands of first-year students.
Exam results are traditionally issued in mid-August, with college offers following a few days later. However, authorities recently told higher education representatives that there are logistical challenges in finalising a date for issuing this year’s results.
These include a deferred sitting of the Leaving Cert exams for Covid-19 reasons and the Government’s decision that the outcomes of this year’s Leaving Cert will on aggregate be “no lower” than last year’s. The exams are due to get underway on June 8th and finish on June 28th.
A second sitting of the exams will take place shortly afterwards to facilitate students unable to sit them in June on public health advice. It will also be open to students who miss exams due to a serious medical conditions or a close family bereavement. Authorities say it is too early to quantify the number of candidates who might need to sit these deferred examinations.
Sources say that while every effort will be made to ensure exam results are available in time to meet the needs of candidates, the issue date will “need to take account of these challenges”.
For example, additional time will be required to mark the later sitting of the exams. In addition, data analysis will be required following completion of the overall marking to ensure outcomes are no lower than last year's. This will be achieved by allowing the State Examinations Commission to apply a "post-marking intervention", which will lift all students' marks, if necessary.
Higher education sources have expressed concern that a delay to the results would result in later CAO offers, which could force them to delay the start of the new academic year for first-year students. This, in turn, could lead to a last-minute scramble for accommodation among this cohort.
There are also concerns within education circles over the potential of a later results date impacting on the third-level hopes of thousands of students wishing to study abroad.
However, such students have been accommodated in the past when results issued later than normal during the pandemic following the use of calculated and accredited grades.
Separately, the Government will this week publish a new national research and innovation strategy for the higher education sector, which will guide how hundreds of millions of euro will be spent over the coming years. It is part of a wider ambition to build a “world-class environment” for research and innovation.
Sources say it will involve a shake-up in research structures and a strengthening of scientific advice to inform decision-making across key areas ranging from climate change to cybersecurity.
For example, the chief scientific adviser role to the Government is being split from the position of the director general of Science Foundation Ireland. This role will probably be replaced with a scientific council, like those in place in the Netherlands, France and US.
It is also likely there will new legislation to provide for a shake-up in structures of national research bodies, such as the Irish Research Council.
The Higher Education Authority is also expected to play a formal role in promoting the attainment of excellence in research in a high-quality higher education system.