Leaving Cert students unlikely to progress to third-level courses before November

Colleges plan to make up lost time in academic year by cutting short Christmas holidays and reading weeks for first-year students

The question of whether students who successfully appeal grades will be able to start college in the academic year is a subject of debate in higher education circles. Photograph: Getty Images

The question of whether students who successfully appeal grades will be able to start college in the academic year is a subject of debate in higher education circles. Photograph: Getty Images

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Leaving Cert students who progress to third-level education are likely to begin their courses as late as November this year, according to education sources.

The decision to postpone the Leaving Cert until late July or early August means students’ results and college offers will be pushed out much later than usual.

Several third-level institutions say they are planning to admit first-year students in either late October or November under best-case scenarios.

The exact dates will depend on the timing of the exams, the duration of the marking process, and how quickly results and offers can be provided to students, according to well-placed sources.

“We’re looking at November at the very best,” said one higher education source, who declined to be named. “This is assuming everything goes smoothly and that timeframes for everything can be compressed.”

Another said they were looking at classes beginning in late October or early November, allowing time for students to accept offers, find accommodation and take part in an orientation programme.

In addition, colleges are planning to make up lost time during the academic year by cutting short Christmas holidays and reading weeks for first-year students. This should allow them to complete their summer exams as normal.

Much of the timings being discussed, however, will hinge on the timeframe for the exams and the marking process.

One source said if the Leaving Cert takes place at the end of July, the earliest the exams would be completed would be mid-August.

However, some institutions are preparing for the possibility of exams beginning in August and running until the very end of the month.

Education circles

The question of whether students who successfully appeal grades will be able to start college is a subject of debate in higher education circles.

This issue was the subject of a high-profile High Court case in 2018, when Wexford student Rebecca Carter argued that she should have been able to start her veterinary medicine course after a totting-up error meant she wrongly missed out on an offer.

Judge Richard Humphreys, who presided over Ms Carter’s case, ruled in Ms Carter’s favour and called the system “highly unfair” and “manifestly unfit for purpose”. He insisted that the situation could not be repeated.

Some institutions believe they will need to accommodate these students who gain places after successfully appealing their grades.

However, others believe the late start-time means these students will have to be offered places in the following academic year due to the unprecedented late start date.

There have also been calls for higher education institutions to provide more places for access students from disadvantaged backgrounds this year due to the challenges facing many Leaving Cert candidates.

The suggestion by UCC emeritus professor of education Áine Hyland has since picked up support from the Teachers’ Union of Ireland and political parties.

Many third-level institutions, meanwhile, are preparing “virtual” open days for students who are considering their course choices.

Institutions such as Waterford Institute of Technology, Dundalk Institute of Technology, Maynooth University and NUI Galway are among those organising such events.

Open days

During each virtual open day prospective students or parents of CAO applicants will have the chance to chat live with lecturers and take interactive campus tours.

Marketing and outreach officer at WIT John Power said people would be able to join the conversation online and see the questions other prospective students have.

“A big part of each virtual open day is the chance to talk with lecturers who deliver our undergraduate programmes and the support staff from right across the institute,” he said.

“Online each day you can chat with staff from our admissions, schools liaison, outreach, fees and grants, accommodation and student life and learning departments.”