Minister for Education Norma Foley has said additional third-level places this year will ease demand caused by increased applications and the potential impact of accredited grades.
Speaking ahead of the beginning of the Leaving Certificate written exams on Wednesday, Ms Foley said despite increases in the number of applications being made to the Central Application Office (CAO) "we're actually talking really of an increase of just 300 Leaving Cert students".
As reported by the Irish Examiner, the Minister added: "There are other students and perhaps some of them may be older candidates or mature students - they will have different mechanisms to achieve their place in college."
According to figures from the CAO, which is responsible for assigning third-level places, as of May 1st over 84,000 people applied for college places.
Last year saw an inflation of 4.4 per cent in results across all subject due to the calculated grades system. This option is also available to Leaving Cert students this year as 'SEC accredited grades' in addition to the traditional written exams, which they could choose between on a subject-by-subject basis.
The increased number of applicants, coupled with the potential grade inflation, could see points requirements for courses, calculated based on Leaving Cert results, increase once again.
To combat this, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris previously announced 4,500 additional places will be offered across third-level courses, on top of the 2,225 places added last year.
"When the challenge was put down to meet the needs of the class of 2020, they were substantially met last year and I have every faith that they will be met again this year for the class of 2021," Ms Foley said.
Turning to the start of the written exams on Wednesday, the Minister wished students the best of luck and recognised the "enormous body of work" done by schools to allow of the accredited grades process to go ahead.
"I’m very pleased that the majority of students have opted to take both accredited grades, and the Leaving Cert exams," Ms Foley said.
"It's been a remarkably challenging year for them, but they have shown remarkable resilience, goodwill, and good humour," she added.
Public health advice
Ms Foley said all measures have been taken at exam centres to ensure the written exams go ahead in line with public health advice.
“Students can rest easy that whatever needs to be done will be in place,” she told Newstalk Breakfast.
Earlier on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, Ms Foley explained the two processes, accredited grades and written exams, were entirely separate and would not have an impact on each other.
The Minister said Ireland was unique in offering the dual options, and although this year's results date (September 7th) is later that normal years, it is earlier than 2020's date and was necessary for checks and balances.
Every effort would be made to assist first year students seeking accommodation despite the late date she added, and particular provision would be made for first years.
“Things will fall into place,” Ms Foley said.
“It’s important to give perspective. These are not normal times.”