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more alternatives Simon Harris announces intention to 'overhaul' the CAO next year

Minister for Higher Education believes current format “narrows the conversation” about students’ future

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Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris .Photo: Gerry Mooney

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris .Photo: Gerry Mooney

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris .Photo: Gerry Mooney

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris has announced his intention to “overhaul” the CAO next year, while also expanding alternatives to the Leaving Certificate.

The Wicklow TD said he believes the current format “narrows the conversation” about students’ future.

“The CAO form is not the only way of getting to where you want to get to in life,” Mr Harris said. “In fact, next year I plan on overhauling the CAO form because I think it narrows the conversation way way too much.

“What Covid taught me was that it’s actually possible not to have a Leaving Cert and for the sky not to fall in and for the earth to continue to rotate on its axis and for students to get on into college life.”

Speaking on youth radio station Spin, the minister also said he hopes to have extra college places open in the 2022 and 2023 academic years.

“Every single year on average about 50pc of students who apply to the CAO get their first choice and about 80pc of students get one of their top three choices,” he said.

“What I’m saying to the Leaving Cert students this year is I’m trying to maintain those ratios, so 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 continued; “We have funding to increase the number of college places by just over 4,000.

"We’ve also now set up a group in the department, which is due to report back to me by Easter, to see what more we can do beyond that. I do want students to know 4,130 extra college places are in place this year.”

Speaking about the supply-and-demand issue on student accommodation, Mr Harris said he has asked officials to come up with proposals to solve the issue, adding: “There is no point misleading you, that’s not going to be ready for this September.”

He also expressed a desire to try and improve the current mental health services offered in many third level institutions.

“We’ve very significantly increased the mental health budget for colleges. So we have put an extra €5 million into that,” he said.

“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’.”

He added; “I want to increase further the number of student counsellors.

"We sometimes don’t want to just access services face-to-face. One of the best things I think we’ve all worked out is setting up a 24/7 helpline by text.”

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