Sinn Féin spokesperson on Higher Education Rose Conway-Walsh has warned that the government has done too little too late to ensure fairness and a level playing field for students seeking places at third level.
Speaking today as 78,000 students await the release of CAO results this afternoon, Teachta Conway-Walsh said: “I am deeply concerned that many hard working students who thought their predicted grades reflected their ability and would secure them their first preference will now be very disappointed.
“Prior Leaving Cert students will be disadvantaged, and the appeals process is not really an appeals process.
“I am getting reports that there will be increases of 30 to 50 points and higher in the most popular courses.
“We hear of an extra 120 places announced overnight in a last-minute effort to ease the chaos. I have continuously questioned the substance of the spin that 5,000 extra new places added this year would address the problem of predicted grades.
“By the Department of Education’s own figures, 4,184 new third-level places were needed prior to Covid-19 just to meet demographic demand.
“The increases being reported cannot be explained by the higher average grades resulting from predicted grades. The Leaving Cert results were on average 4.4% higher than last year. Entry points are likely to go up on average between 10-15%.
“There are a number of reasons for this. Some are the result of a failure to adequately prepare over the last few months other have been years in the making.
“That needs to be kept in mind when we hear the government claim to be responding to Covid by increasing places.
“We also have to ask what places are being created. Are they in the subjects that are in demand?
“On top of this, the government needed to anticipate the fact that the thousands of students who normally go abroad to study each year is going to be much lower this year. That means possibly thousands more accepting CAO offers that wouldn’t in a normal year.
“This pushes entry points up. The limited number of new places that have actually been made available in response to Covid will not even be enough to meet this added demand.
“Some people might think that this will be offset by fewer students coming to Ireland. But at undergraduate level, we have far more going abroad than coming here to study.
“The simple fact is that we have had 10 years of chronic underfunding of third-level institutes with 50% less funding per student than in 2008. We were starting at a huge disadvantage in dealing with the fall-out of Covid. Projections of the cost of Covid for the university sector is projected to be €328 million.
“The preparation and response can be summed up as too little too late, and students across the country will be the ones to suffer as a result.”