Northern Ireland

25% more Northern Ireland students apply to Republic of Ireland universities

A Level paper
Image caption The scoring system for A-Levels has now changed for 2016 applicants

There has been a rise of almost 25% in the number of Northern Ireland students applying for university places in the Republic of Ireland in 2016.

Changes in the admission scoring system for A-level applicants are thought to be the main reason for the rise.

The points awarded for most A-level grades have risen.

This redressed a 2005 system which cut the value of A-levels in comparison to Leaving Certificate grades.

One thousand seven hundred and eighteen students from Northern Ireland had applied to higher education institutions in the Republic by the initial deadline of 1 February 2016.

That is a rise of just over 24% from 1,383 applications by February last year, according to figures from the Republic of Ireland's Central Applications Office (CAO).

The final application process does not end until 1 May, so that figure may rise further.

Since 2005, many popular courses at universities in the Republic of Ireland have been inaccessible to Northern Ireland students unless they took four A-levels.

That was due to a scoring system which compared A-level results with the Leaving Certificate qualification.

A Northern Ireland pupil, for instance, who did three A-levels and got three A* grades, would get a maximum of 450 points.

That compared to a maximum of 600 points for a pupil getting top grades in the Leaving Certificate exams.

The most popular courses at Irish universities - such as law, maths, English or psychology at Trinity College Dublin - require a pupil to get well over 500 points to apply for entry.

A 2014 report for the North-South Inter-Parliamentary Association said the system "effectively devalued" A-levels.

Higher points

The scoring system for A-levels has now changed for 2016 applicants.

For example, points for an A* have risen from 150 to 180, while points for an A grade have risen from 135 to 150.

Individually, Trinity College in Dublin and NUI Galway have confirmed to the BBC that they have seen applications from Northern Ireland pupils rise by up to 22% in 2016.

According to figures supplied by the Irish Universities Association (IUA), only 0.41% of full-time students in the Republic were from NI in 2014/15.

By contrast, 7.7% of full-time students in Northern Ireland were from the Republic of Ireland in 2012/13 - the most recent year for which there are figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

This is despite the fact that university undergraduate tuition fees in the Republic are currently lower at 3,000 euros (£2,400) a year compared to £3,805 in Northern Ireland.

Figures supplied by the CAO also show that there has been no significant rise in students from elsewhere in the UK applying to Irish universities in 2016.

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