I thank the Deputy for his question. There is a very important issue there on the date of the results. The challenge was borne out in trying to do something good by students to ensure that there was a second opportunity to sit the leaving certificate for those impacted by Covid.
At the same time, this is a call for the State Examinations Commission, SEC, to make, rather than the Minister for Education. It would be useful for the commission to make that call and do so quickly. Students and their families need that information, even in terms of the logistics of planning for how their summer looks and whether they want to take a break. There also are the big issues to consider, such as securing student accommodation when the college year starts. I very much hope clarity can be brought urgently to this matter.
I thank the Deputy for raising the important issue of applications to the CAO system and how we continue to create places for the most in-demand courses. Although last year's CAO application numbers were the highest on record, more applicants than ever before were offered and accepted a place in higher education. In fact, the majority of offers made were for first preference courses. I say that in acknowledgment of the work done by people in the higher education sector. This year's CAO application numbers look to be slightly lower than last year's, although they remain high overall. I very much recognise that. In order to ensure applicants are given every opportunity to follow an educational path that works for them, I am seeking both to create additional college places in areas of identified skills need and to broaden the national conversation on third level options.
My officials have been engaging extensively with the Higher Education Authority, HEA, and the higher education sector to identify where additional places can and should be provided in the system for the next academic year. These additional places will be targeted at areas of acute skills need, as identified through our national skills architecture. Courses that provide healthcare workers, courses related to construction and courses related to the green economy are of particular interest because we see both significant demand for such courses and significant need for workers in those areas. I am pleased to say that engagements on providing additional places are at a very advanced stage and it is hoped that approximately 1,000 additional places can be created.
However, increasing the number of places is only one part of the answer. In tandem with this, it is vital that all learners have access to the right courses for them across the spectrum of provision. Increasing capacity in apprenticeship programmes, as we discussed earlier, and the provision of further education options must be part of a balanced third level education system.