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UK vs Ireland: Deciding where to study abroad?

If you’re deciding on whether to study abroad in the UK or Ireland, one thing is certain, both have excellent education systems and some of the world’s best universities for international students.

There are many advantages for studying in either country, so it can be hard to compare the UK and Ireland with a lot of the decisions down to personal or lifestyle preferences.

Here are few facts to help you decide where you want to spend the next few years studying your degree.

EU, Visa, Schengen zone – what’s what and where’s the difference?

As you may know, the UK left the EU in 2020 and Brexit was a big deal in the news.

On the other hand, with Ireland still in the EU, you may ask yourself what’s the difference in your visa rights if you’re planning to travel throughout Europe. In short – there’s no difference.

Ireland is not part of the Schengen Area and that means that even though Ireland is part of European Union, you cannot freely travel within the EU. You would still need to apply for an additional visa to visit Germany, France, Spain or any other EU country.

It is the same with the UK. You will need to apply for an additional visa for leaving the country, whether the country you want to visit is in the EU or not.

In terms of working hours, both Irish and UK student visas allow full-time international students to work up to 20 hours per week during the study period. During the summer or Christmas break, you may work up to 40 hours per week.

Tuition fees

When it comes to tuition fees, it’s quite a tie. Both Ireland and the UK require a similar amount of money to be dedicated to tuition fees. However, that amount is usually cheaper than tuition fees in the US or Australia.

When comparing tuition fees, there are two things to remember. Not every course has the same tuition fees – arts and humanities tend to be generally cheaper, while courses that base their teaching in laboratories or require specialized equipment and facilities are generally more expensive.

The second thing to remember – not every university has the same tuition fees. Capital cities such as Dublin in Ireland and London in the UK are more expensive than the rest of the country. That means both tuition fees and living costs are bigger in capital cities.

Tuition fees also depend on the university itself too, so prestigious universities like Cambridge and Oxford in the UK will be more expensive even though they are not located in London.

It’s also vital to keep in mind that the UK and Ireland don’t use the same currency. You will find Euro (€) in Ireland (as in most of Europe too) and British Pound (£) in the United Kingdom.

To get a sense of how much something costs, it’s important to check the conversion rate to your local dollar. Generally speaking, the British Pound is slightly stronger than the Euro, but that of course changes depending on the currency value at the time.

To give you an idea, Irish tuition fees go around 9.850-55.000€ per year while British fees tend to be around £9.250-26.000 per year. In the UK the tuition fees can be significantly higher for medical courses and that amount goes up to £58.600 per year.

Cost of living

This kind of information is best to be found on the internet. One of the best pages to compare living costs in cities around the world is Expatistan.

Expatistan is based on thousands of prices for different products that are entered by thousands of people. So, if you’re looking to study in one of the capitals then Dublin seems to be cheaper than London, but this may fluctuate so it’s best to get an up-to-date comparison on Expatistan.

Other online sources suggest that the cost of living is quite similar in both capital cities; around £12.000 per year in the UK and 8.000-12.000€ in Ireland. From my own experience of living in the UK, I’d say that £10.000 per year would also be manageable to live with but it’s important to check each university’s cost of living guides as they can vary depending on the university and their accommodation options.

However, London does not represent the whole of the UK and Dublin is not the only city in Ireland. There are plenty of other cities that offer excellent courses and have much lower living costs.

For example, Bristol is 25–30% cheaper than London and Galway is generally around 20–30% cheaper than Dublin, but it’s important to check Expatistan for an up-to-date comparison.

World’s best universities

If you base your decision solely on universities and their quality, then it’s not going to be easy. Both Ireland and the UK have some of the best universities in the world.

On the QS World University Rankings website, British universities have an advantage. 4 of the top 10 universities are based in the UK.

On the other hand, the best Irish universities are Trinity College Dublin (with one of the world’s most famous libraries) and University College Dublin, ranked 108th and 185th according to the QS World University Rankings 2020.

The number of university options is very different across the two countries. There are approximately 130 universities in the UK and only 8 in Ireland. This makes comparison easier if you decide to research Irish universities first.

However, that number can be deceiving but it’s really quite logical when you take into account that the UK has a population of 66.65 million and Ireland has only 4.9 million people. Also, it’s important to remember that the UK consists of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Accommodation

With best universities comes the most expensive accommodation. That means that if you choose to study at Trinity College Dublin you will need 8000€ per year for accommodation and 11.000€ if your choice is University College Dublin.

Like the UK, Irish private accommodation seems to be generally cheaper than university offered accommodation. Based on Education in Ireland’s recommendations, you will need approximately 427€ a month for rent, plus approximately 28€ for utilities.

In the UK the situation is similar, with the exception that utilities and bills are included in the rent. The 2019 National Student Money Survey claims you will need approximately £439 per month for rent, bills included.

If you choose to stay at university accommodation in the UK, according to the Times Higher Education the monthly rent amount goes up to £535, or £640 if you’re studying in London.

Recreation and free time

Whereas London is much bigger than Dublin, both cities offer amazing opportunities to spend your free time. There are plenty of concerts, exhibitions, night clubs, parks and pubs.

Being bigger in both size and population, the UK might seem like a more obvious choice. However, Ireland, also known as the ‘Emerald Island’, offers many natural beauties if you prefer to spend your free time outdoors or in the countryside.

If you want to explore the best of both, there are so many flights between Ireland and the UK that you can jump from one to the other whenever you wish – if your visa allows it of course!

Whichever you choose, you will not be bored – that’s for certain.

Author:

Franka Zlatic

Croatian in the UK. Franka is full-time PhD student at University of Nottingham, pursuing her degree in Sociology.

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