Third-level education in the Republic of Ireland

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 authorities approved by the Government of Ireland, which can grant awards at all academic levels, are University of Dublin, National University of Ireland (Cork, Dublin, Galway and Maynooth), Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dublin City University, Dublin Institute of Technology, Higher Education and Training Awards Council, St. Patrick's College, Maynooth (Pontifical University),[1] and University of Limerick. 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 the Republic of Ireland ranked among the top 500 universities worldwide by the Times Higher Education Supplement in 2008.[2][3]


EFQ 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


Some colleges are "constituent" or "linked" colleges of universities, while others are designated institutions of the Higher Education and Training Awards Council. The latter include the Institutes of Technology, Colleges of Education, and other independent colleges. Some colleges have "delegated authority" from the Higher Education and Training Awards Council, this allows them to confer and validate awards in their own name.

Some institutions such as the University of Limerick, Dublin Institute of Technology 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 and Trinity College, Dublin. Since the mid-2000s, a number of Institutes of Technology have applied for university designation, including Dublin Institute of Technology, Cork and Waterford.

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". In 2001 the percentage of school leavers transferring to third level exceeded 50% for the first time, as of 2005 it is 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 National University of Ireland, Galway (NUI 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), Dublin Institute of Technology and Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) also offer similar courses.

All but two of the seven universities in the Republic of 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 Dublin City University) 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. Dublin City University'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 or Central Applications Office. 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 the Republic of 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%.[4]


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

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 for 2008/09 were on average €850 per student, but was raised to €1,500 per student for the 2009/10 school year.[6] These charges have been labelled as "unofficial fees", and University Heads have admitted that "student registration charges are fees by any other name".[7] In 2011, after large annual increases, the Registration Fee was abolished and replaced with a Student Contribution. For the school year 2015/2016 this fee stands at €3,000. This is a list of colleges and universities within the Republic of Ireland; some colleges are constituent colleges of universities.

Further education

Further education was for many years the "poor relation" of education. There were many different, often poorly defined, awards offered by a multitude of bodies, both ad-hoc and statutory. Typical areas included 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.

The Further Education and Training Awards Council confers 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 formalized to restore confidence. There are two separate schemes enabling progression for holders of FETAC awards to Universities and Institutes of Technology. FETAC awards carry points that can be used to access higher education.

List of higher education establishments


Recognised as Universities under the Universities Act, 1997 as amended:[8][9]

Institutes of technology

Established as an Institute of Technology with the right to award own degrees under the Dublin Institute of Technology Act 1992:

(Recognised under the Institutes of Technology Act 2006 as amended.) [10][11]

National institutions

Colleges of education

Recognised, associated or constituent colleges of Irish universities

(other than colleges of education)

Independent education

Defunct institutions

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


See also


  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 2008
  3. Ireland faces a university challenge
  4. Measuring Ireland's Progress - 2007
  5. "Undergraduate courses of not less than two years duration in colleges in List 1". Retrieved 2010-02-24. Student, information for Undergradute students
  6. "Fees FAQ". Retrieved 2010-02-24. University College Dublin, Administrative Services - Fees & Grants
  7. "Universities admit student charge is an unofficial fee". Irish Independent. 29 January 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-24. - Universities admit student charge is an unofficial fee
  9. "Providers of Higher Education in Ireland". Minister of Education and Skills, Republic of Ireland. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 "Providers of Higher Education in Ireland". Minister of Education and Skills, Republic of Ireland. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 "HETAC Registered Providers". Higher Education Training and Awards Council. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
  12. "Irish School of Ecumenics". Trinity College Dublin. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
  14. "Institutions and Courses: Irish Bible Institute, Dublin", University of Wales
  15. 1 2 "Search for FETAC Service Providers". Further Education Training and Awards Council. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
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