Places in ‘ground-breaking’ degree courses outside CAO points race to double next year

Simon Harris due to announce expansion of new initiative at Higher Options careers event

The number of places on “ground-breaking” college courses that allow school leavers to secure places without the need for CAO points is set to double next year.

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris is due to announce an expansion of the initiative at the Higher Options careers event for second-level students at the RDS, which is organised by The Irish Times.

The event, attended by about 30,000 students, runs until Friday and takes place side-by-side with the WorldSkills Ireland event, which showcases apprenticeships, traineeships and further education opportunities.

Last year Mr Harris announced details of the “joint tertiary-degree route”, which allows students to begin courses in areas such as nursing, computer science, engineering and business in further education college and transfer to a local university to complete their degree.


The move is part of a drive to create alternative pathways to third level without the need to secure high points.

Speaking in advance of his address to students, Mr Harris said the first year of the new initiative has attracted significant interest.

“This year over 800 students applied to the first batch of courses outside the CAO points system, which shows the huge level of interest there is in these new pathways,” he said.

“Today, a new call issues for the next round of courses and I want to see the number of programmes available to students double.”

He said expanding the number of courses was part of the “important change and historic reform” his department was driving.

“We are doing this by allowing more and more students access education no matter their Leaving Cert results, no matter the points they get.”

He said the new joint tertiary degree route represented a new departure in flexible provision and will provide more pathways to learners outside the traditional CAO process.

Director of the National Tertiary Office Dr Fiona Maloney said the pilot tertiary programmes had “successfully strengthened relationships between higher education institutions and Education and Training Boards and enhanced opportunities for learners who may not have otherwise had the opportunity to pursue their degree ambitions in 2023″.

Looking forward to 2024, it is understood that planning has commenced with the Technological University of the Shannon, which is expected to enhance its tertiary offering to include the Athlone campus.

The South East Technological University also plans to expand its offering including new ICT degrees, in conjunction with and Laois Offaly ETB and Fastrack into Information Technology (FIT).

Higher Options, meanwhile, which is run in partnership with the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, is set to attract thousands of students who will get the chance to meet representatives of universities and further education colleges and help choose their study options after the Leaving Cert.

The Irish Times is also partnering with Foras na Gaeilge to create “an cheathrú ghaeltachta” at the Higher Options, where students will have an opportunity to explore the possibilities for furthering their education or starting a career through Irish.

WorldSkills Ireland, a live event run in a partnership between Government, enterprise, industry and education, is also due to attracts thousands of students to an event that showcases apprenticeships and skills with live demonstrations and competitions.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent