Almost 400 new college spots created amid demand for teaching courses
Almost 400 extra places on teacher training courses are to be created this year in a bid to help alleviate a lack of supply in key subjects.
The move also has the potential to offset some of the heat added to the points race by a surge in the number of young people applying for education programmes through the Central Applications Office (CAO).
Education Minister Richard Bruton has agreed with the Irish Universities Association that the expansion in third-level places will apply primarily to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) subjects, as well as Irish and foreign languages.
The numbers graduating from post-primary teacher education courses has remained broadly constant over recent years - but the number of students starting secondary schools is increasing. It is predicted the steady rise will continue until at least 2025.
The sector is reporting severe shortages of teachers in some subjects, particularly relating to science.
Measures to be formally announced by Mr Bruton today include:
Universities will increase the capacity on undergraduate initial teacher education programmes by an estimated 280 places in 2018.
This includes an increase in the priority areas of Stem, Irish and foreign languages of more than 100 places, an increase of over 40pc on 2017 in these areas.
At postgraduate level, universities will increase the capacity on Professional Master of Education programmes by more than 100 places in the priority areas of Stem, Irish and foreign languages.
As a result of the extra changes, universities and Postgraduate Applications Centre (PAC) have extended the closing date for applications to study Irish and the targeted Stem and foreign language subjects (French, German, Spanish and Italian) until April 13.
Provisional figures published by the CAO last week show a 4pc increase in the number of Leaving Cert students applying for undergraduate teacher training courses.
More than 5,000 applicants are chasing around 800 college places. Today's announcement will bring the number of places to more than 1,000.
The numbers wanting to get on a postgraduate course have also risen by 300 this year to 1,366 so far. This is a reverse of a downward trend over many years.
Mr Bruton admitted "some concerns" have been raised around the supply of teachers.
He said today's announcement has "a heavy emphasis on certain subject areas at post primary level, to ensure that schools can get the right mix of subject teachers".