Simon Harris TD, has promised to provide more comprehensive options to Leaving Certificate students and school leavers going forward, in addition to increased college spaces, as part of proposed plans to reform the current Central Applications Office (CAO) system.

His comments come two weeks after expressing the opinion that the current system is “not fit for purpose” in its current state. The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris has said that there is a failure to promote educational and training routes that fall outside the parameters of direct application to third-level institutions.

Speaking on Spin FM radio station, Harris said: “It’s actually possible to not have a Leaving Cert and for the sky not to fall in”. 

Minister Harris has said that the past year has taught him that the traditional Leaving Certificate structure is not the only way to ensure accurate student assessment and that attention is being given to how an alternative method can be designed for the future.

He said: “I don’t want to be flippant about it, the Leaving Cert is long and tested and there are good points to be but we should be willing to open our minds to actually have a discussion about how we can do better by students and I’d love to be part of that conversation”

“It’s actually possible to not have a Leaving Cert and for the sky not to fall in”. – Harris

During the interview he also stated that he hopes to create a further 4,130 college courses places in 2022-23 to counteract the effect of last year’s increased CAO points entry requirements amid the Covid-19 pandemic. 

On average about 50% of students who apply to the CAO get their first choice and about 80% of students get one of their top 3 choices. Minister Harris has said he is committed to maintaining CAO ratios for this year’s students. 

“[…] I’m making sure you have as much of a chance as you would have in any other year. It’s highly likely you’re going to see an increase in points this year because the more choice you give the more likely that is to happen.” He added, “We have funding to increase the number of college places by just over 4,000.”

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Harris also expressed a wish to implement further reforms relating to improved availability of student accommodation and increased funding for student health care services, however it is unlikely that these changes will be made before the beginning of the next academic year.

In his concluding comments on  how the reforms could be put in place, the Minister emphasised that third level institutions have autonomy over how increased budgetary allocations made available to them are to be spent, but that the government does have specified plans in mind.

“That money goes to the Higher Education Authority, they give it out to each college and each college decides ‘what do we need for our students’.”

Doireann O’Sullivan – Reporter