How studying abroad can save you thousands of euro
Irish students in 11 cities from Toronto to Beijing reveal what brought them there and what it is costing them
Grainne Dirwan is studying for a Masters at SciencesPo in Paris as well as interning at Unesco
As the new college term gets underway, we asked members of the Irish Times Abroad network who are studying outside of Ireland to tell us why they chose to pursue their studies abroad and what the financial implications are for them – in terms of course fees and cost of living.
Gráinne Dirwan is studying for a Masters in International Development at SciencesPo, in Paris, while also interning at Unesco. She was formerly a child protection social worker with Tusla, and completed her primary degree in Social Studies/Social Work at Trinity College, graduating in 2006. She is 33 years old and lives in Paris.
“I left my post in social work in 2015 after eight years in challenging service, eager to find the lighter side of life again.” After a spell in Munich, where she took German classes, she moved to France.
“Love brought me to Paris, and there the drive to reinvent myself gained momentum.” The 33-year-old is not eligible for scholarships or grants towards the cost of her studies in Paris. She began her Masters studies in August 2016.
“My fees are means-assessed. The French systems takes into account your whole household and obligates me to be assessed under my parents. It doesn’t make sense, given that I am financially independent, but this is just the way it is. My fees are €5,000 a year, so about €10,000 cheaper than the equivalent in Ireland. The cap on fees at Sciences Po is €14,000 a year.
“The cost of living in Paris is expensive, with me certainly thinking twice, and three times, about making normal purchases.”
Fiona Höbler is in the second year of a PhD in Speech and Language Pathology at the University of Toronto. She left Galway in 2009 and lived in southeast England for three years before heading to Toronto.
“Living and working working in Canada before re-entering schooling afforded me valuable experience relevant to my studies and research career, but also meant that I wasn’t entering with an international student status. I’ve been living here almost five years and have permanent resident status.
“My graduate fees as a domestic student are approximately $8,500 CAD/€5,841 per annum, which breaks down at about $3,500 per semester, with some incidental campus and student fees added on.
“These are well worth the added investment, as they cover students’ full health benefits, access to counselling and wellness services, as well as sports and recreation facilities.
“Funding from the university, which is guaranteed for four years with the option of extending it to five, covers my student fees and then the basic living expenses.
“To supplement my income, I work as a part-time research coordinator at an affiliate research institution and as a teaching assistant within my department.
“I’ve always lived off campus and am currently outside of the city, commuting by express train every day, which takes about 30 minutes and then a quick cycle to campus/work.
“I can live comfortably, even on student scholarship and part-time jobs. The rent that I am paying at the moment, sharing a two-bedroom apartment in the Greater Toronto Area, is a little more expensive than what I paid for a room in a shared house in Galway, back in 2009 – but that didn’t include a swimming pool and fully equipped gym.”
Manus Carlisle is doing a two-year Masters in International Relations and European Affairs at the University of Bologna. He previously spent a year studying in Siena as part of his undergraduate degree in European Studies at Trinity College.
“After a year working in public relations in Dublin, I was awarded a generous scholarship by the University of Bologna for international students to undertake a two-year Master’s course in International Relations and European Affairs.
“The University of Bologna doesn’t have a defined campus, occupying almost a quarter of the old town, so most students live in privately rented accommodation in the city centre.
“The student body is huge, numbering over 100,000, so accommodation is notoriously difficult to track down, and while the standard varies widely, it doesn’t seem to have much effect on the low average rents of about €350 a month.
“At the university, extracurricular activity is not officially cultivated, and classes are oversized. On the other hand, the standard of teaching is high, student political and social activity flourishes independently of the university, and students can eat like kings in the city’s countless osterie and trattorie.”
Maedbh King is in the first year of a five-year PhD programme in cognitive neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley.
“I completed my undergraduate degree in psychology at Trinity College, Dublin and it was there that I made the decision to become a cognitive neuroscientist. While I was awarded funding to pursue graduate study at Trinity, I ultimately decided to travel abroad, first to Canada, and then to California.
“While I have great admiration for the research underway at Irish universities, the line of research that I am currently pursuing is better funded at a world-class institution like UC Berkeley.
“Another advantage to studying at a US institution is that it is typical to offer graduate students very generous funding packages. For example, as an international student, the university/department here guarantees approximately $300,000 for the duration of my programme. This amount covers tuition and provides a reasonably generous living stipend.
“The resources and opportunities that are offered at top-tiered US institutions far exceed what is currently on offer at the highest ranked Irish universities. Until scientific research becomes a priority for the Irish government, it is unlikely that this reality will change.
“I feel very fortunate to be pursuing my graduate degree in the US and it is unlikely that I will return to Ireland upon completion of my PhD.”
Paula Kelleher, from Co Limerick, is enrolled at Tsinghua University’s School of Public Policy and Management in Beijing, studying for a Master’s degree in Public Administration in International Development. She is in the final year of a two-year course.
“Tsinghua is considered to be one of the top universities in the country so it is an honour to have the opportunity to study here alongside some of best minds in the country. I have lived in Asia since moving abroad in 2011, previously in Thailand, South Korea, Japan and now China.
“My course costs around €8,000 euros (60,000 RMB) per annum and although I did not receive a scholarship in my first year, I was very fortunate to receive it for my second year. There are a number of scholarships offered by the Chinese government and the Confucius Institutes for international students to study in China.
“Unlike Ireland, where most students live off campus in cheap student housing, in China, most students live in campus dorms. International students are lucky that they usually only have one other room mate whereas Chinese students are assigned four to a room.
“I live off-campus in a one-bed apartment with my husband (who is from Beijing). Our rent is around €750 a month and we were fortunate to get something decent for that price. Compared with Ireland, the cost of living here is not as high – food, utilities, public transport and taxis are very affordable.”
Danny Trench Bowles is studying for an MSc in Political Communication at the University of Amsterdam.
“It had always been my plan to do a Masters, and to do it abroad. I always wanted to live in a different country for at least some part of my life, and to do it while still studying made sense.
I started studying here in February of this year, and should be finished by September 2018. I chose the University of Amsterdam because it is very well-renowned for communications, and the tuition fees were relatively cheap compared to anything I would pay in the UK or Ireland. I am paying roughly €3,000 for the three semesters.
“There is no campus accommodation here. There is limited university accommodation, only for international students, and we can only stay for a maximum of a year. It’s relatively cheap. But in January I’ll have to look for another place. There is a rental accommodation shortage so the prices are very high; similar to Dublin.
“I secured a part-time job working in an Irish pub here. In general it seems quite easy to get a job here, almost every bar and shop in the city centre has a staff wanted sign.”
Kyle Walsh is studying for a BA in Film and Media at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh.
“I’m just starting year three of four here and I’ve been enjoying it so far. It’s not all that different to Ireland and there’s a sizeable Irish population at the university, so you’re never too far from a familiar accent.
“Tuition fees for Scottish and non-UK EU students are covered by the government, so the financial element was a factor in my choice.
“I’m currently renting a three-bed flat off campus with two mates in Leith, about a 40 minute commute by bus to campus. Finding a flat wasn’t all that difficult this year, and even had I struggled, as an international student I was guaranteed a room on campus.”
Killian Sheahan and Sorcha Ring are both students at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.
Sheahan is studying law. “My programme is a Bachelor course and involves the comparative study of national law (French, Dutch, German and UK) in fields such as contract law, tort law, constitutional law and criminal law, and also courses on EU law. I have also taken a minor in Dutch law.
“The Bachelor and Master phase is only four years and costs roughly €2, 000 per year, which makes it financially attractive.
“I live in a studio apartment in Maastricht and qualify for a rent subsidy from the Dutch government. It is also possible to get further financial assistance if you work a minimum of 56 hours a month.
“I am learning that there is a significant shortage of native English-speaking lawyers who can work in other languages. My intention is to qualify as a Dutch lawyer and then qualify as a French lawyer.”
Ring is studying for a BSc in Liberal Arts and Science. “One of the reasons I chose this degree was that it is interdisciplinary and open, there is no one track that students go down, you are able to design your own curriculum from a wide range of options. Also, the course is fully taught through English.
The current cost is about €2,000 a year, and I get a loan from the Dutch government (any EU student is entitled to do so). Those fees will be my responsibility to pay back when I begin to earn over a certain threshold, but there is plenty of time to do so. There are scholarships available.
“I live off campus and my accommodation is €330 a month, which in comparison to Dublin is a lot less. The only travel costs are getting to and from Ireland, which can be done quite reasonably if booked in advance. Most of the students, myself included, cycle everywhere around the town.”
Harry Quinn is in the second year of a five-year medical degree at the University of Aberdeen, thereafter spending a further two compulsory years as a medical intern in the NHS.
“I decided to apply to non-Irish universities to further my chances of being accepted into a medical degree programme. I found the UK application process much fairer than that in Ireland, as it includes an interview process and a personal statement through which my character was being assessed at the same time as my academic record.
“I focussed my application on Scottish universities as the tuition fees for EU students here are paid by the Scottish government on my behalf, in contrast to the extortionate fees in the rest of the UK.
“Last year I lived in student halls, which were quite reasonable. This year I am living in a privately rented flat in the city, within walking distance of the university. The cost of living here is quite similar to most university cities in Ireland.
“I have taken on part-time work to generate disposable income. This keeps me financially independent from my parents for personal expenses and entertainment costs. Aberdeen is quite a student-friendly city and part-time employment is in abundance.”
Brian Ó Fearraigh, from Navan, Co Meath is studying for a MSc in Particle Physics at the University of Manchester.
“Specialised particle physics courses are non-existent in Ireland, and postgraduate studies involving this field of research are scarce at best. The university here has an excellent physics department and research is carried out in particle physics under many different experiments –- including experiments at the research centres of CERN in Switzerland and Fermilab in the US.
“University degrees in the UK are pricey, £9,000 to study postgraduate and undergraduate courses. I took a loan offered by the UK government to cover the cost of the fees. The student halls of the university cost about the same as in Dublin. There is far more student accommodation available here than in Dublin.
Louise Lawless in a student of Law and German at Trinity College, Dublin. She undertook a year’s study in Germany, supported by an Erasmus grant.
“I was placed in the province of Baden Wuerttemberg, in the student town of Tubingen. Karl Eberharts University in Tubingen is incredibly accommodating for international students. Although there is a student accommodation crisis, no international students were left without a home.
“The cost of rent in this student town was low; none costing more than €400. I paid €270 per month, with access to three supermarkets, a McDonalds, a 24-hour gym, and a shopping centre less than five minutes walking distance from my shared flat.
“Transport within Tubingen was cheap, €85 for six months of unlimited bus travel ( which was free after 7pm anyway), but if we wanted to venture further afield, Deutsche Bahn was efficient and fast, but felt like an investment.
“It was cheaper for my parents to send me there than for them to pay for my sister, also in college, in Rathmines.”