The basics
Ireland: Applying to University - Must read

The Irish higher education system... simplified

Guide to the Irish Higher Education System for international students


With a rich, distinct culture and lively student scene, Ireland has a long history of welcoming international students. Between the nation’s growing economy and advancing education system, it’s not hard to see why. All seven of Ireland’s public universities rank within the world’s top 700, and tuition is free for local and EU students under the Free Fees Scheme. Whilst the Irish higher education system is largely modelled on that of the British, it’s important you understand how it works before lodging a successful study abroad application. Let our breakdown of the Irish higher education system help.


Types of Institution

Where you’ll study abroad in Ireland depends on the specific subject area you’re interested in, and the qualification level you’re seeking.


Irish universities are state-funded and generally operate autonomously. There are seven universities in Ireland, each offering a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes across a wide spectrum of general study areas.

Institute of Technology

These institutions provide education and training study programmes in areas such as business, science, engineering, linguistics and music across certificate, diploma and degree levels. There are 14 institutes of technology in Ireland, each with a separate set of programme, course and credit requirements that should be pursued directly with each institution.

Colleges of Education

Colleges of Education solely provide specialised training to aspiring school teachers, via either a three year Bachelor of Education and an 18-month postgraduate diploma. Students wishing to teach at a post-primary level would typically complete a primary degree followed by a postgraduate diploma.

Private College

Third-party private colleges offer education and training in specialist areas such as vocational training, art and design, medicine, business studies, rural development, theology, music and law. Qualifications are offered across vocational, certificate and degree levels, but differ considerably depending on the institution and study programme. Students are advised to confirm the exact nature of qualifications offered directly with their host institution.

Click here for a full list of Irish higher education institutions



A typical Bachelors Degree in a general field of study is around three-four years long for a full time student. Undergraduate studies in fields such as Architecture, Veterinary Science and Dentistry are about five years in duration. Students may be awarded a Bachelors Degree as a General Degree, Honours Degree or BA (Special Degree), depending on the specific nature of their study programme.

Degree programmes on offer are unique to each institution, each with separate credit and subject requirements. Programmes are categorised via departments based on the general field of study they are in, and again depending on the area within that field they focus upon. For example, Trinity College Dublin offers students the chance to complete a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Film Studies. Students in this programme also have the option to complete a secondary tract of study in another arts area such as English Literature or Drama.

Some universities also offer students the chance to complete their undergraduate studies as an Honours degree. This typically means that they will complete a larger amount of credits across the same duration as a standard undergraduate programme, thus increasing the difficulty of their overall studies. Upon completion of their studies, ‘(Hons)’ is added to the student’s degree title. For example, a student completing an Honours programme might graduate with the title Bachelor of Science (BS) in Anatomy (Hons).



Postgraduate qualifications awarded in Ireland are either a Postgraduate Diploma, Masters Diploma or PhD. Programmes can be taught or research-based. Study at a postgraduate level is more focused, and takes a more specialist approach to the area of study undertaken at an undergraduate level.  

Postgraduate Diplomas are often vocationally oriented, and directly linked to professions such as teaching or librarianship. In some cases these Diplomas may be used as a bridging qualification towards a Masters Degree in the same field.

Masters Degrees are typically one-two years in length and usually involve both taught coursework and a thesis component. PhD studies are usually three years in duration.


Academic culture

Irish academic culture largely echoes that of the UK: students are expected to work and maintain a sufficient academic standard independently. There is typically a larger focus on the modes of approach to a subject rather than upon factual data, and course content seeks to equip students with the tools to draw their own conclusions on what is taught. Formulation of this critical judgement is expected to be supplemented with readings and research completed independently, in addition to set course work.

Assessment varies between areas of study but generally focuses on fewer, longer-form tasks rather than smaller modes of continuous assessment. Examinations are common, and often held at the end of semester one (mid-year) and again at the end of semester two (finals). There is generally a passing grade of at least 40% for any piece of assessment.

Class discussions encourage students to voice their opinions critically and not shy away from asking questions that challenge what their professor is saying, provided it’s substantiated. Professors welcome students to offer new perspectives on a topic and will often have consultation hours where students can schedule appointments with them to discuss ideas or concepts covered in class.


Now that you’ve got your head around how the higher education system in Ireland works, start browsing courses in Ireland now and plan your study abroad adventure!


Useful links

Tuition fees in Ireland

Applying for an Irish student visa

Search for a course

Study level*
About Author

Monica Karpinski received her BA (Media and Communications) and Diploma in Modern Languages (French) from the University of Melbourne, Australia. An art and culture aficionado, in her spare time Monica enjoys film, reading and writing about art.