The third-level education in Ireland includes the university sector, the technological sector and the colleges of education, they enjoy high autonomous but substantially government funded. There are also private and independent colleges. The academic year runs from September to June with holidays in December (Christmas) and April (Easter). Most universities run a semester system and modular programme allowing greater flexibility for students.
Entry requirements for Irish students to university are based on the result of the Leaving Certificate examination, the final secondary school examination. There are over 60% of students who complete second level proceed to higher education, one of the highest rates in the world. Entry requirements for overseas students are in general based on their national examination performance and standard of English language.
The universities, the Dublin Institute of Technology and a number of the Institutes of Technology are authorized to confer their own awards, whereas the Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC) is authorized to make awards in the non-university sector. HETAC makes awards and sets and monitors standards at all levels of higher education and training up to doctorate level.
The following academic awards can be achieved at Irish higher education institutions:
Higher Certificate: Two year full-time course
Ordinary Bachelors Degree: Three year full time course
Honours Bachelors Degree: Normally a three or four year course
The Bachelors grading system works as follows:
- Upper Second (2:1)
- Lower Second (2:2)
Graduate Diploma: Designed for graduates seeking a vocational reorientation – usually a one year course.
Masters degree: Either by research or through a taught programme. Normally one to two year(s) duration.
Doctorate (PhD): Usually takes a minimum of three years of original research. Doctorates are usually awarded pass or fail, with distinctions in rare cases.
There are 25 Higher Education Institutions in Ireland.
- Trinity College Dublin (TCD), founded in 1592 is the oldest university in Ireland
- University College Dublin (UCD) founded in 1854 is Ireland’s largest university
- National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) was established in 1845
- University College Cork (UCC)was established in 1845
- National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM) founded in 1795 is Ireland’s fastest growing university
- Dublin City University (DCU)was established in 1980
- University of Limerick (UL) was established in 1972
- Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin), combined by DIT,ITT,ITB on 1st January, 2019
- Munster Technological University (MTU), combined by CIT & IT Tralee in January 2021
- Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest(TUS), combined by AIT & LIT on 1st October 2021
- Atlantic Technological University (ATU), combined by GMIT, IT Sligo, LYIT on 1st April 2022
- South East Technological University (SETU), combined by IT Carlow, WIT in May 2022
The seven universities in Ireland are attractive destinations for Irish, European and international students. The universities are offering the most advanced quality education and exciting cultural experience for studying and undertaking research through a broad range of programmes. Particularly, significant government investment in research and development makes the Irish universities an attractive base for young researchers and scholars. These universities ensure Ireland continues to advance and become a developed knowledge society and reinforce their outstanding performance in research and the nurturing of highly-skilled graduates.
Irish university degrees are fully recognised internationally, ensuring graduates from Irish universities can make full use of their qualifications across Europe and Worldwide. Recent official reports show that Ireland is at the top of the league in implementing major European higher education and research policies, and the universities are full participants in many European and international teaching networks.
Universities award their own degrees using external examiners to ensure consistency of standards. There is also a Higher Education Authority (HEA) which oversees the work of the universities on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills.
Institutes of Technology
Ireland is one of the largest exporters of software in the world and rates amongst the top five producers of pharmaceuticals and fine chemicals globally. The ever-increasing demands of this high technology economy have ensured that our higher education technological sector offers the highest and most advanced standards and opportunities available today.
There are 2 institutes of technology in the Republic of Ireland.
They are offering programmes at levels 6 to 10 of the National framework of qualifications. These involve undergraduate programmes leading to higher certificate awards, and from Ordinary Bachelor degrees to Masters and Doctoral degrees. Most have schools of Science, Engineering & Technology and Business. In addition many of the institutes have developed special programmes in areas such as Humanities & Languages, Paramedical Studies and Healthcare, Art & Design, and Tourism.
Each institute, following agreement of its quality assurance procedures with the HETAC, validates its own programmes. The qualifications awarded by HETAC are internationally recognised by academic, professional, trade and craft bodies. In addition most colleges also have courses leading directly to the examinations of the many professional institutes.
NUI Recognised Colleges
The National University of Ireland (NUI) is a federal university system of constituent universities and recognised colleges. Besides the 4 constituent colleges, UCD, UCC, NUIG and NUIM, there are 5 NUI recognised colleges:
- Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
- National College of Art and Design
- Milton Institute of Theology and Philosophy
- Shannon College of Hotel Management
- Institute of Public Administration
Side by side with the publicly funded tertiary sector are a number of private institutions mainly involved in the provision of business and professional educational training. Courses on offer include; Accountancy and Business Studies, Law, Humanities, Hotel and Catering, Tourism Studies and Art. Many of the programmes offered by these colleges are validated by the HETAC and some have links with universities and/or professional associations through which the courses on offer are accredited.
On 6 November 2012, the NQAI completed its amalgamation with HETAC, FETAC and the Irish Universities Quality Board (IUQB) and a new integrated agency, QQI, was established. Awards and qualifications formerly made by HETAC, FETAC and IUQB continue to be recognized but the awards now are made by QQI. You will continue to see the names FETAC, HETAC, NQAI and IUQB being used in this website for ease of reference during this transition period.
There are more than 30 Higher Education Institutions in Ireland including State Universities, Funded and Private College offering over 5000 programmes choices. You could visit the website for the course details and entry requirements, you may access the HEI websites through the directory link below.
Stay Back Options
Non-EU students who have graduated from Irish education institutions with a level 8 of the National Framework of Qualifications are permitted to remain in Ireland for 12 months to seek employment. For level 9 and above , this allows the eligible students to remain in Ireland for 24 months. Students are eligible to apply for the Irish passport after 5 years employment in Ireland.