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New changes will make it easier for students in the North to attend Irish universities

January 25, 2024

Original Article:

CHANGES TO THE University application process for students from the north will make it easier for them to study in universities in the Republic of Ireland.

The changes follow a report by Universities Ireland, an organisation consisting of 11 university presidents on the island of Ireland and which promotes north and south cooperation.

The move follows criticism of how universities in the Republic treated A-level exams that are sat by students in the North.

A-levels are the equivalent of the Leaving Cert and usually students in the North undertake three A-levels – only around 3% of students opt to undertake four A-levels.

However, it was previously only possible for students in the North to achieve maximum CAO points if they sat four A-levels, one of which had to be maths.

While Maths is a core subject in the Leaving Cert, students in the North don’t have to study maths for their A-levels.

However, now students in the North will be able to achieve maximum CAO points without undertaking four A-levels.

The report’s recommendation must now be accepted by each University’s Academic Council.

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said he hopes this revision will be in place for the students looking to start their studies in September 2024.

‘Fairer system’
A Universities Ireland working group was established to look at the issue and its report was today accepted by Minister Simon Harris.

In its report, Universities Ireland noted that the number of students from the North who are enrolled in Higher Education Institutions in the Republic is “barely higher than the number who are domiciled in Co Leitrim”.

Only 0.6% of students in higher education in the Republic come from Northern Ireland, while in the North, 2.4% of students come from the Republic.

The report highlighted “Leaving Certificate and A-level equivalencies” are one of the “main inhibitors of movement from North to South”.

Additional factors were said to be overall cost of living differences between the two jurisdictions.

The new arrangements mean it will no longer be necessary for students in the North to take four A-levels – one of which must be maths – in order to achieve maximum points under the CAO system.

Rather, students in the North will be able to use their best three A-levels, along with a fourth A-level or an AS subject (A-levels take two years to complete, but an AS-level takes one year).

This will mean that applicants can attain a score of 600 points with three A-levels and one AS, and 625 points if one of the A Levels is maths.

Students in the North will also be considered for a place in a university in the Republic by applying with two A-levels and one or two AS levels.

The Universities Ireland Working Group was chaired by University of Galway Deputy President and Registrar Professor Pól Ó Dochartaigh.

He said “the new system offers a fairer system than before”, adding: “It makes it easier for students from the north to come to the Republic to study, to learn and to experience our wonderful, energetic university communities.”

Meanwhile, Minister Simon Harris welcomed the move as a “very good first step” but said “there are further issues to work through”.

The move has also been welcomed by the SDLP.

Its economy spokesperson and Foyle MLA Sinéad McLaughlin said she’s “delighted Minister Harris has taken steps to address this”.

She added: “There has been great frustration for some time that the only way pupils here could maximise their chances were through extra A-Levels and this decision will remove a significant amount of pressure from our young people.”


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