Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris has confirmed that the 2,225 extra college places secured last year during the controversy over the Leaving Certificate calculated grades will be available again this year.
He also said he had secured budget funding for more than 2,000 other new places this year, bringing the total to almost 5,000.
Mr Harris told the Dáil that what happened last year was not “just a blitz” and the additional places from 2020 will be available in the system for first-year college students in the 2021/2022 academic year.
The 2,225 additional third-level places were secured after discussions with universities and other stakeholders in the wake of errors made in the calculated grades system.
The Minister told Sinn Féin education spokeswoman Rose Conway Walsh that along with those, provision had been made to offer college places to more than 2,000 extra students.
Sources have said an extra 2,700 students will be accommodated in the forthcoming academic year bringing to almost 5,000 the number of extra college places compared to two years ago.
Meanwhile, pressure is growing on Minister for Education Norma Foley from Government backbenchers to offer Leaving Certificate students the option of predicted grades or sitting written exams.
The backbenchers joined opposition TDs in appealing for clarity on the issue “sooner rather than later”.
The Irish Second Level Students Union (ISSU) also called for an alternative to the Leaving Cert, while the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) insisted the traditional exam had to take place.
During Dáil debates on education, Fianna Fail TD and teacher Pádraig O’Sullivan said “the debate must be concluded instead of being allowed to trundle on” as he suggested a blend of the traditional exam and predicted grading.
Cork South West Fianna Fáil TD Christopher O’Sullivan said he had conducted an Instagram poll on students in which he said 74 per cent who responded wanted a “blended model that would include predicted grades along with the choice to sit the Leaving Certificate examination if a student is not happy with his or her predicted grades”.
He said 49 per cent of students were in favour of the traditional Leaving Certificate while 51 per cent were against.
Fianna Fáil Dublin South West TD John Lahart also called for clarity while for the Opposition Labour education spokesman Aodhán O Ó Riordáin said a decision was needed in February as the situation was "intolerable for students"
Sinn Féin's Pauline Tully said Ms Foley should admit there was a question mark over the Leaving Cert exam and students needed information urgently.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said students were "stressed to bits" because they did not know what was happening. He said they needed certainty: "You're giving them fake certainty about come hell or high water there'll be a Leaving Cert essentially. You cannot say that."
Ms Foley told TDs the advisory group continued to meet and was working through all the options. She said she understood all the challenges, difficulties and anxieties students faced.
“We are listening very closely to the student voice and to all of the student voices, which are well represented at all of our stakeholder engagements.”
ISSU president Reuban Murray said it was clear exam-year students in particular were "really struggling".
“Leaving Certificate students are entering their fourth month of online learning of a two-year senior cycle, and even though we knew that schools were not able to deliver online learning to the same standard last year, these gaps have not been filled or addressed in the intervening months,” he said.
“Now, we are looking at an uneven playing field for students in the home stretch towards exams, and student stress and anxiety is unbelievably high.”
However, the TUI said the exam was highly trusted, externally marked and enjoyed significantly greater trust than the calculated grades system.
In addition to the written exam, the union said it was important to highlight the importance of orals, practicals and projects, where other types of learning, knowledge and skills are assessed as part of the certification process.