Universities call for more money as Leaving Cert numbers rise
Universities say the surge in Leaving Cert candidate numbers evident this year must trigger an increase in Government funding to cater for student demand coming down the tracks.
More than 124,000 students start the State exams today, the highest figure in years, and one that will continue growing until the mid 2020s at least.
Candidate numbers at both Leaving Cert and Junior Cert are up about 3pc on last year, as the baby-boom children from the turn of the millennium are now facing into third-level education.
The Irish Universities Association (IUA) said they were "the vanguard of a highly significant demographic bulge which will have a material impact on the funding per student at Ireland's seven universities in the years ahead".
IUA director general Jim Miley cited the Government-commissioned Cassells Report on meeting the funding needs of higher education, which projected the number of students finishing school in 2029 at 27pc higher than in 2015.
Mr Miley said that if a "sustainable core funding model is not delivered by Government, tens of thousands of today's pupils could be disenfranchised in years to come".
Meanwhile, Education Minister Joe McHugh led the good wishes to candidates and said that while the exams were a milestone in education, there were many paths to a rewarding life.
National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) director Clive Byrne said it was a time for students to showcase creativity, knowledge and everything that they have learned from teachers over the last three, five or six years.
Association of Secondary Teachers' Ireland (ASTI) president Breda Lynch advised that after each exam, candidates should look ahead to the next one and "avoid post-mortems and the inevitable social media hype".
Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) president Seamus Lahart advised students to stay positive and calm.
The exams are taking place against the backdrop of a review of senior cycle, and both teacher union leaders took the opportunity to endorse the continuation of an externally assessed, State-certified exam.
As the exams got under way there was welcome news for asylum seekers, with a relaxation of the rules around eligibility for State grants for further and higher education.
Instead of having to spend five years in the Irish education system, eligible applicants will have to spend only three years to qualify for supports in line with the grant scheme, operated by SUSI.
This key criterion of the scheme, which started in 2015, was altered after a review found that the five-year requirement was too restrictive.
The scheme opened for applications yesterday.