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Government may consider extra third level places if delayed applicants lose out

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The Government is to consider if additional third level place places are needed to assist thousands of deferred students who stand to lose out due to grade inflation in this year’s results.

A total of 60,000 Leaving Cert students received the highest ever set of grades on record after their calculated grades were issued on Monday.

While these grades will benefit the class of 2020, grade inflation will devalue the results of at least 10,000-20,000 college applicants whose results were based on exams they sat in previous years.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said the provision of more than 1,250 additional higher education places in “high demand” courses was partly aimed at easing points pressure.

A senior Government source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it plans to wait to see how big the issue remains after the CAO’s first round offers on Friday afternoon.

The hope among policy-makers is that a “cascade” effect from the creation of additional third level places will free-up places for students and ease some points pressure.

The source did not rule out the provision of additional higher education places as a potential solution if thousands of students are still badly affected.

The exact scale of the number of deferred students affected by grade inflation is unclear.

One of those fearful of the impact is Ronan Cloney (20) from Co Wexford, who completed his Leaving Cert in 2019 and took a year out to work and reapply through CAO this year.

“I understand that applicants like myself are not the priority in the current situation, but I truly feel we are being left behind,” he said.

The CAO said a total of 20,201 students were applying for college places this year on the basis of results they achieved in the past.

However, Government sources say the actual number affected by grade inflation is likely to be about half of this, as many have received college offers already and are not in the competition for CAO points.

CAO sources, meanwhile, have indicated the scale of grade inflation creates “huge problems” in seeking to allocate places fairly.

Unlike the UK college application system, the Irish system relies on Leaving Cert results being comparable from year-to-year in the interests of fairness.

Opposition parties have suggested a number of potential solutions such as increasing the grades of deferred students in line with grade inflation, or ring-fencing a proportion of college places.

Potential litigation

The CAO, however, is understood to be fearful that any steps like this could expose third level colleges to potential litigation from students who felt they were unfairly denied places.

Prof Pól Ó Dochartaigh, chair of the CAO board, has said the idea of ring-fencing places for college students was problematic as the CAO did not have any legal basis on which to do this. If they did, he said colleges would expose themselves to potential litigation.

For example, a student from this year’s cohort of Leaving Cert students who ended up losing out on a college place due to spaces being ring-fenced could sue the college concerned.

“This is not for the third level sector to resolve by opening ourselves to litigation. The ball is fairly and squarely in the Department of Education’s court,” he said.

He also said the idea of adjusting grades of prior Leaving Cert students to account for any grade inflation in 2020 was very difficult due to the tight turnaround time in processing results.

Any attempt to do this, he said, would likely result in a delay in offers to all college students and might affect the start of the academic year.

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