When an education means emigration
GENERATION EMIGRATION:EMILY RIORDAN always knew she wanted to work with people and with her hands. She was good at biology at school and played sports, and when the time came to fill out her CAO application in sixth year she had her heart set on studying physiotherapy.
But when her Leaving Cert results came through in August last year, her points fell short of the requirements for the course in any Irish university.
“I was so disappointed,” she says. “I knew I would have to go abroad because I didnt have the grades to study physio in Ireland, and I became more determined as the months went by.”
Riordan (20) didn’t have any particular country in mind when she began to research her options for studying abroad online. Through Eunicas.ie, a website that assists students from Ireland and the UK to apply to European colleges, she eventually decided on the Saxion University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands.
She had the minimum grades required for the course, and after writing a letter of motivation outlining why she wanted to study physiotherapy, she was accepted.
“It is a much fairer system than the CAO in Ireland, where someone with really high points can get into a course that they mightn’t be suited to,” Riordan says. “I had never been to the Netherlands before, but I came over with my dad in July to visit the college in Enschede and fell in love with it. It is a real student city, with a great social scene and nightlife.”
As demand has increased and points have soared for university places in Ireland in recent years, a corresponding rise in the number of programmes taught through English in other European universities has prompted more Irish school-leavers such as Riordan to look abroad in search of quality courses with more accessible entry requirements.
According to data published by Eurostat last month, 24,700 Irish people, or 13 per cent of the Irish student population, were enrolled in a third-level course in another European country in 2010. In percentage terms, Ireland lags only behind Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Cyprus, Iceland and Malta, with four times more Irish students taking up courses abroad than the European average.
About seven in every 10 of those who opted to study abroad in 2010 took up courses in the UK, but with fees rising to an average of £8,385 (€10,572) in English universities for this coming academic year, the number of applicants from Ireland has fallen dramatically. Just under 2,000 Irish people accepted offers from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) in Britain this year, an 18 per cent drop on last year and almost 1,000 fewer than in 2010.
“When people think about studying abroad, the first place that comes to mind is the UK, because it is close and English-speaking,” says Guy Flouch, a study-abroad counsellor who runs the Eunicas service.
“But there are more than 740 undergraduate programmes taught through English in other EU countries, and more are being announced every year in response to a growing demand from Ireland and the UK.
“Having the local language is not essential, entry requirements are more realistic, and, in many cases, studying at these European universities is much more affordable than staying in Ireland.”
Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland offer free tuition for EU students on all undergraduate and some Master’s and PhD programmes. In the Netherlands, students pay around €1,700 per year, while state universities in Austria, Germany and Switzerland charge under €1,500, much less than the €2,250 registration fee required by Irish colleges.