The number of overall entrants through the Central Applications Office (CAO) seeking third level places by the February 1 deadline was up 6% on the same time last year.
The numbers sitting the Leaving Certificate this year who have submitted CAO applications is up just under 1%, to 44,090, according to statistics presented to the Higher Education Authority (HEA) yesterday.
But the data also shows a 26% rise in people aged 23 or over applying as mature students, up from 10,005 a year ago to 12,677. This figure may yet rise significantly before the late application deadline of May 1, given that almost 2,300 additional mature students applied to the CAO during this period in 2009.
A bigger increase was seen in the numbers applying with further education qualifications, up by 30% from 8,161 on February 1 last year to 10,616.
While the figures may suggest a squeeze on places for school-leavers, the HEA said it expects more third level places than before will be offered this autumn. More than 45,000 places were filled in third level colleges last year, with the universities taking in 6% more students than in 2009.
The 71,843 CAO applications made up to the start of February represents a 20% jump on 2006 applicant numbers.
Opposition parties, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland and representatives of Vocational Education Committees have called for an end to the restriction on the number of places in Post Leaving Certificate courses at 31,500 to satisfy rapidly rising demand for training.
Meanwhile, hits on a website, bluebrick.ie, run by the 14 institutes of technology to help prospective students choose the most suitable part-time or evening courses, have risen from 600 in December to 6,000 last month.