I missed out on CAO points for nursing. Is there another route into it?

Ask Brian: Cost-cutting means there are few options outside the CAO process

I did my Leaving Cert in 2019 and missed out on a CAO offer in nursing, my only choice. I enrolled on a level five pre-nursing course in a local further education (FE) college. I secured distinctions in all my eight modules, but was devastated when I didn’t receive an offer from any of my 10 CAO nursing choices this year. How do I go about getting into nursing now?

Sadly, as the entry route into high points CAO pre-university courses has grown exponentially in recent years across all disciplines, level eight nursing degrees have remained out of range for most pre-nursing Post-Leaving Cert (PLC) students.

The route into nursing from our PLC courses was up until 2015-16 mainly through the UK, where the fees of nursing and other paramedical students were paid for through the NHS. The UK government abolished that funding mode, resulting in prohibitively expensive fees of up to £9,250.

Scotland, through a quirk in EU regulations, offered a fee-free route to many Irish students (up to 500 Irish students currently register in Scottish universities each year). However, it leaves the transition arrangements on 31st December. It is not clear what the fee model will be for Republic of Ireland students in both the UK and Northern Ireland from September 2021.


Why are there so few places in our Irish third-level institutions to accommodate our level five pre-nursing graduates? Why did they always have to go to work in the UK to secure their qualifications?

Since 2009, the Irish third-level sector expanded hugely to accommodate the growing numbers of school-leavers who wish to proceed to college. Colleges have done this with reduced resources and higher student:lecturer ratios.

That is, apart from nursing. In 2009, 1,880 places were awarded in level eight nursing degree programmes through the CAO.

In a cost-cutting measure in 2010, the Health Service Executive withdrew sanction for 310 of those places, reducing the number of places to 1,570.

That number remained at this level until 2016, when the numbers increased by 60. They were further increased by 200 in 2018, to 1,830, which was the published number on offer in 2020.

Additional nursing places were added in September this year as part of Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris’s increased numbers to accommodate the calculated grades crisis.

In short, we have denied about 2,500 school leavers and FE level five graduates the opportunity to train as nurses over the past decade. We did this to save a pittance.

You and other potential nurses who have proven their worth through exemplary PLC awards have been sold short by appalling mismanagement of our nursing profession. Hopefully, Mr Harris will use the present crisis to create sufficient long-term third-level places to meet your desire to serve your community as a nurse.