Universities to limit student deferrals amid fears many will want to take gap year

Concerns many college applicants may seek to defer due to Covid-19

Universities are to limit the number of students who are allowed to defer taking up their places amid concern that many may choose to take a gap year due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The majority of tuition across third-level institutions is set to take place remotely this year and some senior higher education figures are worried students will defer over fears of losing out on the traditional college experience.

UCD and Trinity College Dublin are among many colleges that have restrictions in place in the coming academic year to limit the number of students who may defer.

UCD said it will place a 5 per cent limit on the number of students in a class who can defer, while Trinity said it will limit deferrals to ensure there are sufficient places for the following year’s new applicants.

An unpublished Higher Education Authority report compiled earlier this year warned that a significant number of students were likely to defer due to the pandemic.

Points for entry into many courses climbed to record highs on foot of grade inflation in this year's Leaving Cert, Central Applications Office (CAO) figures show. More than 50,000 college applicants received course offers on Friday and have until Wednesday to decide to accept them or not.

Overall, points were up across about two-thirds of honours degree or level-eight courses this year.

Excess of 600 points

At university level, points were up on average by between 20 and 35 points. A total of seven courses have now climbed above the previous all-time high of 600 points.

Some of the biggest individual points increases compared to last year were in excess of 100 points. They include TU Dublin's pharmaceutical science (+116 points) and computing with a language (+113 points), law and French at UCC (+89 points) and paramedic studies at University of Limerick (+79 points).

About 78 per cent of level-eight college applicants received an offer from one of their top-three choices .

There was continuing anger, meanwhile, among students and their parents in high-achieving schools who feel they lost out under the new calculated grades process for Leaving Cert students.

A grind school, Bruce College in Cork, said grades awarded to its students across several subjects were down by between 13 and 26 per cent .

However, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said the Government would not be reopening the Leaving Cert grading system.

‘Unravelling entire system’

“If you pull a thread here, you risk unravelling the entire system . . . If all of a sudden I am allowed to take a teacher’s grade in one subject and apply that to college then why can’t someone else do the same?” he said.

“Nobody sat down in the Department of Education and said ‘would it not be great to get rid of the Leaving Cert?’ That is not what happened. What happened was there was not a safe way to hold the exams this year.”

For those who were disappointed, he said there was an opportunity to sit one or more subjects in November.

Mr Harris said that removing “school profiling” from the calculated grades was a “brave decision” but the “right decision”. If there had been no standardisation process , Mr Harris said there would have been “very high” grade inflation.

He said an additional 2,255 places this year had allowed more students to access third level than ever before .

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times