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Ireland’s Higher Education System

Not sure if Ireland’s education system is for you? Take a look at the multiple study options you have as an international student

Education has been prized in Ireland throughout its long and sometimes difficult history. Today Ireland’s higher education system offers excellent programmes for international students of all ages. More than one in ten full-time students come from overseas.

Most education institutions receive government funding. This means the standard of education is very high and international students who graduate here have a competitive advantage worldwide.

Higher education is provided mainly by universities, institutes of technology and colleges of education. A number of other third level institutions provide specialist education in professions like medicine and law.

The institution you choose depends on the subject area you’re interested in, and the level of qualification you’re looking for.

What are the higher education institutions in Ireland?


There are seven universities in Ireland, all ranked in the top 3% of institutions worldwide. Undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs are offered across a broad range of study areas. Irish universities have international offices to help international students adjust to academic life and join in social activities on campus.

Institute of Technology

Ireland has 14 Institutes of Technology which provide education and training study programmes in areas like business, science, engineering, linguistics and music. Study options are available at certificate, diploma and degree level, with different courses and entry requirements at each institution.

College of Education

Colleges of Education provide specialised training for students who wish to become school teachers. This can be achieved via either a three-year Bachelor of Education and an 18-month postgraduate diploma. For teaching at a post-primary level, students typically complete a primary degree and then a postgraduate diploma.

Private College

Private colleges offer specialist education and training in areas like vocational training, medicine, law, business studies and agriculture.  Students gain qualifications at vocational, certificate or degree levels.

Irish universities offer international students places on English foundation programmes to help improve their language skills. Minimum requirements are typically equivalent to IELTS 5.0.

What type of degrees can I study?


You can study a bachelor’s degree in a general field of study and this generally takes around three-four years full time. In fields like architecture, veterinary science and dentistry, it takes around five years. Depending your study programme, you may receive a bachelor’s degree as a General Degree, Honours Degree or BA (Special Degree).


Some students gain postgraduate qualifications, and these may be a postgraduate diploma, masters diploma or a PhD.

Programs may be teaching or research-based. This type of study is more focused and takes a more specialist approach to the area of study than undergraduate level study.

  • Postgraduate diplomas are often vocationally oriented, and directly linked to specific professions.
  • Master’s degrees are usually one to two years in length and usually involve coursework and a thesis.
  • PhD studies are usually take three years to complete

What is a third level degree?

A third level degree is a degree gained in college or university, in other words a bachelor’s degree.

Study methods in Ireland

How will I be assessed?

This depends on what you study, but you will generally complete fewer tasks which are longer in length, rather than smaller tasks which are continuously assessed. Students in Irish universities traditionally take examinations to assess their progress, but nowadays in Ireland, many modules and courses have no examinations and are graded largely on assignments.

How do I prepare for examinations?

Examinations (exams) usually happen at the end of semesters. This is called ‘sitting’ exams’. You will need to prepare for exams throughout the year by reading and doing assignments. You will also need to revise the material you have already covered in the weeks before the exam. It’s a good idea to ask your tutor or university library for copies of past exams, to give you some practice in answering the questions.

Exams can be challenging, especially for international students. If you are feeling overly stressed, you can usually access free counselling through the student counselling service on campus.

National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ)

The NFQ specifies the standards of Irish education qualifications. It measure and compares the learning standards and achievements of qualifications and also facilitates the transfer between institutions i.e. it allows students to move from one study level to another as long as their student visa requirements are fulfilled. Since the qualifications under NFQ correspond with that of European Qualification Framework, your degree is recognised and accepted globally.

Note that the both Irish universities, Institutes of Technology and HECA private colleges provide third-level qualifications on the NFQ.

Fee structure
Ireland is a great place to enjoy a world-class education, quality of life and colourful confluence of culture. While the tuition fee in Ireland is reasonable, it is best to plan well to manager your expenses well. Tuition fees for international students vary according to the type and duration of the course. Each university in Ireland sets its own tuition fees, depending on subject and level of study. The average degree costs between €10,000 and €25,000 a year.

Teaching and learning style
Universities and colleges in Ireland provide an interactive and innovative learning approach wherein you’ll be engaging with your classmates and your instructor alike while understanding the topic/concept of discussion. Irish system reaches out to support international students, both in the classroom and outside of it.

You’ll be expected to do a lot of independent learning which can include working on assignments, reading a lot of academic lists and making notes during your lectures. In addition to lectures, tutorials are also conducted to helps students understand the concepts in a better manner. The classroom size is smaller than Bangladesh and English is the medium of instruction. As an Bangladesh student, you may take some time to get used to the Irish accent but once you do, you’ll know why it is called the most charming accent of the world.

Higher (or third-level) education
The higher education comprises universities, colleges, and institutes of technology, most of which are Irish government funded. Ireland has a total of 7 universities, 7 colleges of education, 15 private higher education institutions and 14 Institutes of Technology (IoT). There a few additional third-level private institutions in Ireland that offer specialised education in disciplines like business studies, art and design, law, medicine, etc.

Higher education can entail degree and non-degree programs.

Non-degree programs



Level 6

Higher certificate (mostly offered by IoTs)
Duration: 2 years

Level 7

Higher diploma
Duration: 1 year

Level 8

Graduate diploma
Duration: 1 year

Level 9

Postgraduate diploma
Duration: 1-2 years


Degree programs



Level 7

Bachelor’s degree
Duration: 3 years (medicine, dentistry, veterinary science, and architecture programs may be for 5-6 years)

Level 8

Honours bachelor’s degree
Duration: 3-4 years

Level 9

Master’s degree
Duration: Mostly 1 years with exception to certain courses that may extend to 16-24 months

Level 10

Doctoral degree
Duration: 3 years of research followed by dissertation


Pathway programs
There are also many pathway programs to higher education for international students including foundation studies mostly in business, social sciences, engineering or pure/applied sciences. Irish universities have arranges with private pathway providers that helps students receive the extra support and assistance they need to succeed. Bangladeshi students aiming for masters can also apply to pre-master pathway programs if they’re unable to fulfil the requirements for direct entry.

Academic year
Higher education is usually divided into two semesters.

First semester: Starts in September and runs till December

One-month Christmas break: December/January

Second semester: Starts late January and runs till May

Summer break: May till early September

After graduation
As per the revised Third Level Graduate Scheme Permission, the Irish Government offers the opportunity to students who have graduated from Irish institutions to stay in Ireland for up to 24 months for employment.

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