Trinity College, Dublin

The number of first year college students in Ireland will be one of the largest the country has seen in a while.

Although the registration process is still not completed, it is expected that new student numbers will certainly top last years record of 45,500 and up from 40,000 a few years ago.

The boom of new students is putting pressure on colleges but no additional finance is available from the government that is already planning a $65million budget cut in the coming weeks.

In the past two years, there has been a 15percent cut in government funding for third level, including a 6percent drop in staff numbers.

Colleges are now catering for almost 200,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students -- up from 170,000 in the 2004/05 academic year.

It may soon be the responsibility of the student to pay college fees in order to facilitate the growing numbers of people attending third level.

A report, by economist Dr. Colin Hunt, recommends that students receive a loan to cover the cost of fees, to be repaid once they reach a certain income threshold after graduating, just as is the way in the U.S.

In an effort to skill up in the economic slump more students are staying in college to pursue masters degrees and some even doctorates.

Figures from the Higher Education Authority reveal that there was a total of 188,166 full and part-time students in publicly funded institutions in the 2009-10 year. There were about another 10,000 in the private sector.

Meanwhile, the Central Applications Office (CAO) has announced that it is reducing all application fees for college in 2011 by more than 10 percent.

Those applying by the February 1 deadline will pay €40 and those who make an early application online will pay the discounted rate of €30.

The fee reduction applies to both online and postal applications.

CAO operations manager Joseph O'Grady said the cost saving had been brought about by the increased efficiencies due to its online application and acceptance facilities, even with the rise in application numbers.

This year, the CAO processed 77,628 applications.

There have been more than 45,529 acceptances so far and more than 95pc of these were recorded online.