I propose to take Questions Nos. 22 and 51 together.
I was very grateful to Deputy Conway-Walsh for wanting to transfer questions in order to highlight this matter as I know the issue is important and timely. This year has been one like no other, and it was a year when a leaving certificate class could not do a leaving certificate exam. At every twist and turn, everybody in this House and across society has wanted to see a system that is as fair as possible put in place to protect the integrity of the leaving certificate and to ensure we could have a pathway for as many people as possible to move on from school to college.
That was not always guaranteed if one did not devise a system for doing it. Many Members of the House, including the Deputy, rightly called for the removal of the school profiling piece of the standardisation and that has happened. That will have a knock-on effect on grade inflation, but the school profiling needed to be removed. What can the Government do? We had already increased the number of places for higher education in the budget by 2,700. On top of that, we funded 1,415 additional places for key skills needs in areas of the economy such as ICT, engineering and science. The Deputy will recall that last week I received approval from the Government for 1,250 extra college places and, rather than try to decide in the Dáil or in the Government where to direct them, we asked the HEIs to identify their high-demand courses and to allocate those additional places to match those courses if they had the capacity or flexibility. That was welcomed across the board.
I have been working in the last few days to see if it is possible to create more capacity, even at this stage, and I am pleased to inform the Deputy that, through our engagement with the Higher Education Authority, HEA, and the institutions, I am in a position to confirm that there will be a further 800 additional college places on top of the 1,250 we announced last week. I hope this will go some way towards relieving pressure. To be clear, I expect the points to rise. Higher grades will result in higher points. There is no way around that. However, the most practical, sensible thing we can do is try to provide as many places as possible. I thank all the institutions and universities throughout the country for their leadership on this because, as Deputy Cairns said, it is not easy to ask people to create more places in a Covid environment, but I hope this is welcome news to many.