Third-level colleges have not yet agreed a shortened timeline for offering places to Leaving Certificate students, seven weeks after it was hastily announced by two Government ministers.
Education Minister Joe McHugh and Higher Education Minister of State Mary Mitchell O’Connor said on November 1 that the State Examinations Commission (SEC) would get exam results out a day earlier than usual next August.
They also said the Central Applications Office (CAO) would make its main round of offers for college places on Friday, August 16, three days before it would ordinarily do so, as part of a plan to enable Leaving Certificate appeals to be lodged and marked quicker.
But the revised timeline has still not been approved by the CAO which runs the application-and-offer process on behalf of 38 colleges.
At a CAO board meeting on December 7, no decision was made to adopt the new calendar which includes what CAO described to the Irish Examiner as “the proposed" 2019 schedule for its offers and acceptances process.
Some colleges are understood to have difficulty being able to provide weekend helplines or other supports to prospective students or their families seeking information in the days after the planned Round 1 offers on a Friday.
One education source said that “technical details” are being worked out, with some colleges believed to be pushing for the offers to be made on a Thursday, instead of a Friday, to facilitate such supports and advice for students before the weekend.
But the time needed by college admissions officers and CAO staff to generate offers based on applicants' Leaving Certificate grades would then require finalising Leaving Certificate results a day earlier again. This might also mean changes to SEC logistics to get results to students on Monday, August 12 instead of the next day as currently planned.
The CAO said its operations group - which includes a representative from each college - usually determines the schedule of offers and acceptances. But if a significant change is proposed, it is normally brought to the attention of the CAO board.
“The proposed changes were discussed by the operations group on November 15 and the board discussed the proposal on December 7,” the spokesperson said.
There are no current plans for a meeting of the CAO board on the subject, and the agenda for its next meeting has not yet been set.
“CAO and [higher education institutions] are working through the details and information, and the offer schedule will be provided well in advance of the offers' season for the coming year,” the CAO said.
The ministers' announcement on November 1 coincided with their lodging of appeal papers in relation to aspects of a High Court ruling in September in the case of Wexford student Rebecca Carter. Mr Justice Richard Humphreys had directed that next year’s Leaving Certificate students should get appeal results before third-level courses begin.
He found that Ms Carter was treated unfairly by being expected to wait until mid-October for her appeal to be decided by the SEC. She was subsequently offered and accepted a place on the veterinary medicine degree at University College Dublin after the High Court ruled that the SEC must fast-track the remarking of her business exam.
Under the arrangements announced seven weeks ago, students would still not have appeal results until after most college courses start in 2019.
But universities and institutes of technology have agreed to delay beginning any programmes until at least the second week of September, meaning the most tuition time that could be lost by any student offered a place arising from an upgrade should be two weeks, compared to a possible six weeks up to and including this year.