Applying to British colleges
Recently published figures for the British UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) show that 583,501 people have applied to UK universities so far in 2011. This compares with 555,439 at the end of January in 2010, an increase of 28,062, or 5.1pc.
The number of Irish applicants to UCAS was very slightly down this year, with 6,710 applications from the Republic in 2011 as compared with 6,825 at the same time in 2010, a decrease of 1.7%).
Several factors have probably contributed to the overall increase in British college applications this year, including the fact that fees are set to increase in English universities for entrants from 2012 onwards.
So how do the UCAS application figures compare with our CAO figures? At the beginning of February, CAO's preliminary application figures for 2011 showed that around 72,000 applications were made by the normal closing date this year.
These figures were roughly in line with those at the same time last year, although several thousand late applications brought the final total for 2010 to just over 78,000 applicants, including standard school leavers, mature applicants, FETAC applicants and other non-standard applicants, such as applicants from abroad.
It seems reasonable to assume that that the total numbers of applicants will be around the same this year.
Financial concerns also affect applicants to Irish higher and further education institutions.
The most significant worry is the proposed increase in the students' registration charge from €1,500 a year to what is now being termed a "student contribution" of €2,000 per year.
It is not clear what policy a new government will follow by way of student contributions or charges.
Fine Gael's education manifesto stated that it would develop a fairer funding system for third level to ensure that every student has access to a high-quality education, and that this would involve a graduate contribution from students of roughly a third of the cost of their course.
The contribution would be made by new entrants to publicly funded third-level institutions after the student graduates enter employment and reach a defined income threshold.
Fine Gael's manifesto further promised that, as the student contribution model began to return funds to the third-level sector, it would phase out the student registration fee as an upfront charge.
Labour's election manifesto stated that it believed the €500 increase in the student services charge would be a step too far for students and their families, and that it would reverse this increase. But it is not clear from it how any financial shortfall would be met.
These issues will have to be sorted out in the near future. But for students on both sides of the Irish Sea, there is some uncertainty as to what lies ahead.
Open days in the coming week: Next Tuesday, March 8, there is an open day at Galway Technical Institute on Father Griffin Rd, Claddagh, Galway. On the same day, NUI Maynooth is holding a post-graduate open evening from 4-8pm at Pugin Hall, South Campus, and the Dublin Business School, Aungier St, Dublin 2, hosts a post-graduate open evening from 5pm to 7pm.