Increasing the number of third-level places without the infrastructure and support services to match, is a populist move that will result in students suffering, according to the Union of Students in Ireland.

Yesterday, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, celebrated the increase in the number of students being offered their first CAO choice, attributing it in large part to the increase in the number of third-level places by the Government.

However, while widening access to higher education is an important aim – that we share – increasing places without the required accommodation and support services that will keep students in education, such as mental health facilities, will only result in students struggling through college, deferring places or dropping out.

USI Deputy President and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Bryan O’Mahony said: “Simply increasing third-level places gives Government the chance to have positive headlines on CAO day, but without proper accommodation provision and adequate investment in colleges and universities, it is not going to achieve the aim of opening-up access to third-level qualifications.

“When a student can’t afford their next meal or needs to work long hours to meet their college and accommodation costs, we have failed those students. Just increasing places year-on-year, with no backup is a populist and futile move.

“We already know how bad the accommodation situation is, but these extra places did not come with one extra student bed. Nor did they come with extra university or college staff or extra mental health counsellors. USI is in favour of increasing places, as long as they come with increased resources and supports and properly funded third-level institutions that can actually cater to their needs. Otherwise, students are being given false expectations that will not be matched in reality, which in our opinion, is doing them a complete disservice.”