Extra university places could be created to cope with demand, says Harris

Extra university places could be created to cope with demand, says Harris

Simon Harris expressed hope that additional places could be made available in some high demand courses.

Extra university places could be created to deal with any extra demand created by calculated Leaving Cert results, the Higher Education Minister has said.

Simon Harris expressed hope that additional places could be made available in some high demand courses.

Mr Harris said the results furore in Scotland would have added to the stress and anxiety being experienced by Irish students ahead of receiving their Leaving Cert grades on September 7.

But he said he was confident that the Irish system for calculating grades was “sophisticated” enough to ensure there would be no repeat of the Scottish experience, when examiners downgraded 125,000 results based on the past performance of schools.

The Scottish Government reversed those downgrades this week in response to the controversy.

At an event to announce a new incentive scheme for businesses to take on apprentices, Mr Harris was asked whether the prospect of higher grade averages being recorded in 2020 would see more university places created.

Mr Harris said there were a number of variables to consider.

“We are still liaising with the Department of Education and with universities to see where possible, particularly in some high demand courses, will it be possible to provide more University places?” he said.

“I think it will, is the short answer. Not in every area, but in some areas.”

On the problems with the system for Scottish higher exams, Mr Harris said: “There’s no doubt Leaving Cert students watching the news, reading the newspapers, will have seen what happened in Scotland and that will add to their anxiety and stress after already a horrifically anxious and stressful time for them.

“I do note what the Minister of Education (Norma Foley) said here in Ireland is the system that she has in place in relation to the standardisation does take into account that there could be students in any school in Ireland who could be academically stronger than students in previous years. So she does believe that the system put in place is sophisticated enough to recognise that, to ensure that no student is disadvantaged here.”

Simon Harris and Mary-Liz Trant at the announcement of the new apprenticeship scheme (Niall Carson/PA)

The minister added: “We cannot see any student disadvantaged by virtue of the school they went to, or where they live in our country.

“That goes against the ethos of what education is meant to be, about fairness.”

Mr Harris was also asked about university accommodation in the coming term.

Some students face paying for traditional leases when social distancing measures will only require them to attend classes part-time.

The minister said he had spoken to several universities about the issue and expressed confidence “flexible” solutions could be found.

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