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More than 100 upgraded Leaving Cert students denied college places in ‘oversubscribed’ courses

Applicants told no places left in their programmes despite securing enough CAO entry points following rechecks

More than 100 Leaving Cert students who secured their preferred college courses last week after their exam results were upgraded have been told they cannot take up their places until next year.

Universities told the applicants this week that all places on their courses were already allocated and, instead, they have been issued with deferred offers in September 2024.

The move has prompted criticism from students affected who say they have been treated unfairly through no fault of their own for errors in marking which were highlighted following rechecks of their papers.

“I was so happy to get the grades I deserved last week after the rechecks,” said one student, who was upgraded by 11 points to 551 points, and secured her first preference course of English and sociology at Trinity College Dublin. “Then I got a letter this week saying it was oversubscribed . . . The whole system seems so unfair.”


The CAO confirmed that a total of 534 applicants were entitled to new college places based on upgraded Leaving Cert results issued last week. Of these, it said 106 were deferred until next year.

Last year a total of 692 applicants were also deemed entitled to places based on upgraded results, and 82 of these places were deferred to 2023.

A spokeswoman said a CAO handbook, available online, explains that any student who is entitled to a new course based on upgraded Leaving Cert results will receive a deferred offer if all places have already been allocated.

“The decision to offer a place is made by the higher education institution in question and not the CAO,” she said.

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said his department will “offer any assistance that they may require on this matter”.

“Every effort must be made by Irish universities to accommodate these students. Each year a small number may be offered a deferred place, however it is essential that this number be kept to an absolute minimum, particularly against a backdrop of increased investment in higher education and an expansion of places,” he said.

Labour’s education spokesman, Aodhán Ó Riordáin TD, called on higher education institutions and the Minister to show greater flexibility.

“The system, surely, should be able to respond to this. Every year students get upgraded. Why is there not a contingency plan in place? It doesn’t reflect well on universities, who are being too rigid, or the Department of Further and Higher Education, who should have a policy on this.”

The issue was a source of controversy in 2018 when the High Court ruled in favour of student Rebecca Carter, who argued that she was denied a place on her veterinary science course that year after securing enough points on appeal.

However, wider the ruling was overturned following an appeal by the Department of Education.

Solicitor Eileen McCabe, who took the case, said students affected have good reason to criticise the process as not being fit for purpose.

“They earned the points and are being awarded them so late that they either have to defer college for a year or sign up for a second or third preference course. It really is unfair,” she said.

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