500 additional third level places are to be created for this year, RTÉ News has learned.

The places are on top of 1,250 extra places announced last week. 

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris is due to give details of the places tomorrow.

It is understood they will be in the areas of medicine, nursing, law, business and some science subjects. 

All of these additional places are being created amid concern that competition for courses will be exacerbated by this year's record high Leaving Certificate results. 

Students who have applied for course places using Leaving Certificate results obtained in 2019 or in previous years are among those worried that they will be disadvantaged by the fact that this year's Leaving Certificate results are significantly higher than previous years. 

Read More: 
Record high results for Leaving Certificate class of 2020
Results are up but some students will lose out

Earlier Minister Harris told RTÉ's Morning Ireland that there has been a very significant increase in places available, with 5,000 more places than last year now available, when there was 47,000 college places.

Mr Harris said he met the Higher Education Authority yesterday, along with representatives from universities and Institutes of Technology, to see where additional places can be provided and to provide funding to allow that.

He said that institutions have been given flexibility ahead of Friday's CAO offers to see where most demand lies.

Mr Harris said those who studied prior to 2020 were also in a difficult position, and the fairest, most equitable and practical way to assist students is to provide more places.

The minister said of the 20,000 people who have applied using previous years' Leaving Certificates, 12,000 will get places and offers, which leaves 8,000 who may not yet get a place.

He said many will get offers and some will be anxious, but "we are trying to make the system fair by continuing to add more course places".

Mr Harris said increasing previous year's points or ring fencing places for them is not advised legally and he believes increasing college places is the fairest way to address this.

Mr Harris said that 2,000 of this year's new college places were allowed for in the last Budget and an additional 1,415 places this year have been targeted at areas where skills are in demand, including courses in engineering, ICT and science.

Mr Harris said that a likely drop off in international students would not necessarily open up more places as many study at postgraduate level and advised students to have a Plan A and a Plan B.

He said that last year 153,000 students applied for 5,800 places in health and welfare courses, so supply and demand remains a feature of the system.

TD raises concerns over students from previous years

Independent TD Peter Fitzpatrick has raised concerns about the Leaving Cert grade inflation this year, which he said will impact over 20,000 CAO applicants using Leaving Cert results from previous years.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Fitzpatrick said that the breakdown of results show that teachers over-estimated their students marks. 

The Louth TD said that this would result in points required for CAO courses increasing significantly across the board. 

He said this was unfair to students who were applying through the CAO and who had completed the Leaving Cert in 2019 or earlier and he said that these students must be protected and given a fair chance. 

Responding, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that this was unique year due to Covid-19.

He pointed out that around 79.2% of cases there was no change of grade at all.

The Taoiseach said that it was difficult at this stage to say what challenges that may arise for some of last year's Leaving Cert students in securing places in college.

He said that there would be over 5,000 additional CAO places this year at third level designed to reduce pressure in key areas.