Students will be able to view courses ranging from apprenticeships to university degrees for the first time under a revamped CAO website, which goes live at midday today.
Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said the move aims to ensure the full range of third-level options will be visible to school-leavers on a single platform.
“This will change the conversation at kitchen tables across the country – one that reflects education is for everyone and there is no right or wrong choice, just different ones,” he said.
However, while the CAO will include prominent links to further education and apprenticeships (www.cao.ie/options), all applications for these courses will continue to be made through the traditional channels. Applications for higher education will be made, as normal, through the CAO.
Mr Harris said it was the first of many steps the Government intended take to make the third-level sector more inclusive.
“Across the country over the next few months, Leaving Cert students will be considering their next steps in life. We have so many industries offering diverse and interesting careers and there are so many ways to get there,” he said.
About 70 per cent of school leavers currently progress to higher education, which is one of the highest rates in the world.
There are concerns among policy makers, however, that not enough students are opting for apprenticeships and further education courses in areas where there are acute skills shortages, such as construction and other sectors.
Andrew Brownlee, chief executive of Solas, which oversees further education and training, said the changes represent a significant milestone for the sector given the focal point the CAO holds in the minds of school leavers, parents, teachers and guidance counsellors.
“Getting all of these options on the table alongside higher education choices when young people are discussing their next steps after leaving school can only help in making smart, rounded choices based on their skills and interests,” he said.
“It is also important that school leavers understand that further education and training, and apprenticeships, present new pathways into higher education.”
Meanwhile, potential higher education applicants are advised to read the CAO Handbook, which is available to view and download online (www.cao.ie/handbook), to ensure their applications meet all the requirements.
CAO communications officer Eileen Keleghan said applicants could practise their application in advance with an online demo application facility available on the website.
“It is a good idea to enter some course choices at this stage. However, applicants can log into their account to add, remove or change the order of their courses as many times as they like up to February 1st for no extra charge. There is no reason to delay registering with CAO.”
The CAO website goes live at 12pm on Friday. Details of the full ranges of course are available at cao.ie/options