Third-level education in the Republic of Ireland

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Graduates Memorial Building, Trinity College, Dublin

Third-level education in the Republic of Ireland includes all education after second-level, encompassing higher education in universities and colleges and further education on Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) and other courses.

The degree-awarding institutions which can grant awards at all academic levels are the University of Dublin, National University of Ireland (Cork, Dublin, Galway and Maynooth), University of Limerick, Dublin City University, Technological University Dublin, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Munster Technological University, Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest, Atlantic Technological University and South East Technological University, as well as St Patrick's College, Maynooth (Pontifical University). Quality and Qualifications Ireland, a State agency, can grant awards in other institutions directly, or delegate the authority to do so.[1] The King's Inns of Dublin has a limited role in education specialising in the preparation of candidates for the degree of barrister-at-law to practice as barristers. Medical schools in Ireland also have particular regulation. There were seven establishments of higher education within Ireland ranked among the top 500 universities worldwide by the Times Higher Education Supplement in 2023.[2]


EQF level EHEA cycle NFQ level Major award types
1   1 Level 1 Certificate
2 Level 2 Certificate
2 3 Level 3 Certificate
Junior Certificate
3 4 Level 4 Certificate
Leaving Certificate
4 5 Level 5 Certificate
Leaving Certificate
5 6 Advanced Certificate
Short cycle within 1st Higher Certificate
6 1st 7 Ordinary Bachelor's degree
8 Honours bachelor's degree
Higher diploma
7 2nd 9 Master's degree
Postgraduate diploma
8 3rd 10 Doctorate degree
Higher doctorate


The Irish universities include the University of Dublin, better known by the name of its sole college, Trinity College Dublin, the four constituent universities of the National University of Ireland, two universities established in 1989, five technological universities formed by the amalgamation of Institutes of Technology and a professional medical institution. Some colleges are constituent colleges of universities, while others are designated institutions of the State agency Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), which succeeded the Higher Education and Training Awards Council. The latter include the remaining Institutes of technology in the Republic of Ireland in Dundalk and Dún Laoghaire, Colleges of Education, and other independent colleges. Some colleges have "delegated authority" from QQI, this allows them to confer and validate awards in their own name.

Some institutions such as the University of Limerick, Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin), and Dublin City University (DCU) have completed a process of modularising their courses (others are still in a transition phase), mostly using the ECTS. The Bologna process and applied research are the current concerns of national educational policy, additional concerns include the structures of the National University of Ireland. In 2019 TU Dublin amalgamated three institutions in the Dublin region (Dublin Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown, and Institute of Technology, Tallaght), and in 2021 Munster Technological University amalgamated two institutions in the Munster region (Cork Institute of Technology, and Institute of Technology, Tralee), while the Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest was formed by the merger of Limerick Institute of Technology and Athlone Institute of Technology. The Atlantic Technological University, through the merger of Galway Mayo Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology, Sligo and Letterkenny Institute of Technology and South East Technological University with the merger of Institute of Technology, Carlow and Waterford Institute of Technology in 2022.

The Marks & Standards document, offered by most institutions, can be consulted for information on the range and criteria set down for awards, while programme specifications offer additional information. In contrast to practice in the rest of the education system, entry tends to be highly competitive for school leavers; the so-called "Points Race" administered by the Central Applications Office (CAO). In 2001 the percentage of school leavers transferring to third level exceeded 50% for the first time, while as of 2005 it was in excess of 55% and expected to grow at approximately 1% per annum for the next decade.

There are over 25 third-level courses at graduate and postgraduate level offered through the Irish language. Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge is the Irish language Department of the University of Galway and it has different off-campus centres throughout the Gaeltacht regions. Dublin City University has an Irish language department called Fiontar. University College Dublin (UCD), TU Dublin, and Atlantic Technological University (ATU) also offer similar courses.

All but two of the eleven universities in Ireland offer "open" (omnibus entry) Bachelor of Arts degrees through the CAO where the student can choose their specialisation after their first year of study. The two universities that do not offer "open" (omnibus entry) arts degrees, Trinity College Dublin and DCU, do still offer Bachelor of Arts degrees in specific areas of study such as Drama Studies, Journalism, Latin, History, Japanese, and International Relations.

In one, Trinity College Dublin, the applicants wishing to read an Arts degree may apply to the college to read a combination of two subjects, such as French and Philosophy – which the student may continue to read jointly or with focus on one. DCU's de facto omnibus entry arts degree is offered by St. Patrick's College of Education (a college of DCU) and is titled "BA in Humanities". All Hallows College (a college of DCU) offer BA in humanities, theology pastoral care, and English.

Entry into higher education institutions is normally done through the CAO. In this way, students wishing to enter university apply to the CAO rather than the individual university. Places in courses are usually awarded based on results in the Leaving Certificate Examination or any international equivalent. Each university has a minimum entry requirement, usually requiring a pass grade in either English or Irish, as well as maths. Some also require a pass grade in a modern continental European language (French, German, Spanish or Italian). Each individual course has further entry requirements, for example, science courses usually require a certain grade in one or two sciences. The student must also achieve the number of points required for the course under the points system. However, universities also have systems in place for accepting mature students, and students who have successfully completed a Post Leaving Certificate or Further Education course.

Entry into third-level is generally very high in Ireland (as it also is in Northern Ireland), and among young adults (those aged 25 to 34), 41.6% of them have attained third-level degrees—the second highest level in the EU after Cyprus, and substantially ahead of the average of 29.1%.[3] Broken down by gender, approximately 43% of women and 40% of men Ireland attend third level education.[4]

Undergraduate fees[edit]

Under the "Free Fees Initiative" the Government pays the tuition fees of students who meet relevant course, nationality and residence requirements as set down under the initiative. These requirements include:[5][6]

  • Holding EU nationality, or are a national of member country of the European Economic Area, the United Kingdom or Switzerland, or those who have been granted official refugee status.
  • Having been a resident in an EU Member State for at least three of the five years preceding entry to the course.
  • Are not undertaking a second undergraduate course.

Students are required to pay a "registration fee" on entry to their courses. These charges cover costs such as equipment usage, administration fees and exam fees. Charges were €1,500 per student for the 2009/10 school year.[7] These charges have been labelled as "unofficial fees", and some university heads admitted that "student registration charges are fees by any other name".[8] In 2011, after large annual increases, the registration fee was abolished and replaced with a "student contribution" that stood at €3,000. For the school year 2023/2024 students had to pay that amount plus the "student levy" of €150.[6]

Postgraduate fees[edit]

The "Free Fees Initiative" only covers Bachelor's degrees, so postgraduate students pay fees regardless of their nationality. However, the amount does change depending on the country of origin, with EU fees being typically lower than those for non-EU.

Further education[edit]

Further education is vocational and technical education and training in post-compulsory education. Awards are offered by a multitude of bodies, both ad-hoc and statutory. Typical areas included are craft and trade apprenticeships, childcare, farming, retail, and tourism. These are typical areas of the economy that do not depend on multinational investment and recognition. There are many different types of further education awards, known as Post Leaving Certificates.[9]

The Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) conferred awards in the extra-university system. Further education has expanded immensely in recent years helped by the institutions, and because of this the type and range of these awards have been formalised to restore confidence.[citation needed] There are a number of schemes enabling progression for holders of QQI awards to universities and institutes of technology. QQI awards carry points that can be used to access higher education.

Grade inflation[edit]

Ireland has a higher proportion of third-level graduates than any other EU country. At the same time, the proportion of graduates with first-class honours has reached record levels. There is disagreement about whether this increase is due to improved methods of instructing increasingly motivated students, or simple grade inflation. President Michael D. Higgins believes that it is due to grade inflation, and has expressed concern about the continued quality and value of university degrees. Whatever the reason might be, employers increasingly examine graduates' extracurricular activities, work experiences, and soft skills as they search for the most able applicants.[10] [11][12]

List of higher education establishments[edit]

These are lists of colleges and universities within Ireland; some colleges are constituent colleges of universities.


Recognised as Universities under the Universities Act, 1997 as amended:[13][14]

Technological Universities[edit]

Technological Universities have been formed by the merger of former Institutes of Technology.

Institutes of technology[edit]

Pontifical University[edit]

Colleges of education[edit]

Recognised, associated or constituent colleges of Irish universities[edit]

National institutions[edit]

State-aided and chartered institutions[edit]

Other institutions[edit]

Foreign institutions with a presence in Ireland[edit]

As well as "Study Abroad" programmes from US universities, a UK institution, a French business school and a number of US universities have presences in Ireland:

Foreign institutions who validate programmes in Ireland[edit]

Historically a number of institutions, including seminaries such as St. Patrick's, Carlow College, St. Kieran's College, Kilkenny, St. Patrick's College, Thurles, and Tullabeg College, would have prepared students for examinations with the University of London. In recent years a number of mainly private colleges have had programmes accredited by UK universities.[25]

Defunct institutions[edit]

The following are defunct institutions, due to closure or merger. This list does not include institutions that were renamed.

Professional Bodies[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Final report on alignment of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth awards made in Ireland to the National Framework of Qualifications, September 2011.
  2. ^ Times Higher Education Supplement Top 500 Universities Worldwide 2023
  3. ^ Measuring Ireland's Progress – 2007
  4. ^ "Census of Population 2016 – Profile 10 Education, Skills and the Irish Language – CSO – Central Statistics Office". 23 November 2017. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  5. ^ "Free Fees Initiative". Higher Education Authority. Retrieved 3 April 2024.
  6. ^ a b "Bachelors in Ireland (2024)". Retrieved 3 April 2024.
  7. ^ "Fees FAQ". Retrieved 24 February 2010. University College Dublin, Administrative Services – Fees & Grants
  8. ^ "Universities admit student charge is an unofficial fee". Irish Independent. 29 January 2010. Retrieved 24 February 2010. – Universities admit student charge is an unofficial fee
  9. ^ Mooney, Brian (17 August 2019). "Alternative career routes boost options for school-leavers". The Irish Times. Retrieved 17 August 2019. Practical, hands-on courses offer career progression and skills enhancement outside the traditional CAO system.
  10. ^ O'Brien, Carl (8 June 2021). "Grade inflation undermining quality of university degrees, President Higgins warns". The Irish Times. Retrieved 19 June 2021. Grade inflation was the sign of an "ongoing slip in examination standards, emanating from pressure, sourced internally and external to the university, to report the achievement of continually higher 'outputs'".
  11. ^ McGuire, Peter (13 August 2019). "Grade inflation is soaring: Are degrees losing all meaning?". Retrieved 14 August 2019. Third-level degrees are becoming ubiquitous, with employers struggling to differentiate one first-class honours or 2.1 degree from another in their search for top talent.
  12. ^ McGuire, Peter (21 September 2021). "What skills do employers look for in candidates?". The Irish Times. Retrieved 23 September 2021.
  13. ^ "Electronic Irish Statute Book (EISB)".
  14. ^ "Providers of Higher Education in Ireland". Minister of Education and Skills, Republic of Ireland. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "Providers of Higher Education in Ireland". Minister of Education and Skills, Republic of Ireland. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
  16. ^ O'Brien, Carl (9 December 2019). "Royal College of Surgeons becomes States ninth university". The Irish Times.
  17. ^ "Minister Harris celebrates incorporation of St. Angela's College, Sligo into the Atlantic Technological University". Government of Ireland. 6 November 2023. Retrieved 12 January 2024.
  18. ^ "Irish School of Ecumenics". Trinity College Dublin. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
  19. ^ "National Maritime College of Ireland". 26 January 2021. Retrieved 12 August 2021.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "HETAC Registered Providers". Higher Education Training and Awards Council. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
  21. ^ "Institutions and Courses: Irish Bible Institute, Dublin" Archived 21 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine, University of Wales
  22. ^ "Search for FETAC Service Providers". Further Education Training and Awards Council. Archived from the original on 19 June 2012. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
  23. ^ Notre Dame Gobal Centre Kylemore Abbey
  24. ^ Sacred Heart University in Dingle
  25. ^ Country Report Republic of Ireland Transnational Education, The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education(UK),
  26. ^ "Froebel Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education". Maynooth University.

External links[edit]