Answering the call of Europe

With UK universities hiking prices, Irish graduates are opting to study though English in Holland, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe

Groningen has become a popular destination for Irish graduates

Groningen has become a popular destination for Irish graduates

Tue, Mar 11, 2014, 06:00

Irish school leavers are broadening their horizons when it comes to choosing a third level programme. Universities across Europe are offering degree courses through English, and the entry requirements and fee arrangements are, in many cases, very competitive. According to the latest figures from Eurostat on student mobility in Europe, more than 25,000 Irish people were enrolled in further or higher education in other EU member states in 2011.

The next wave of Irish scholars going overseas will come from the graduate sector, according to Guy Flouch of Eunicas, an independent support service for students looking to access higher education programmes in the EU. In the past six months, he has seen a huge increase in the volume of enquiries from graduates of Irish universities looking to take master’s or PhD programmes in the EU.

“There are thousands of postgraduate courses taught through English right across the EU,” says Flouch. “They cover the whole range of subject areas, not just the obvious ones such as international studies and business. In many cases they are free of charge and at Eunicas we are now getting enquiries daily from graduates trying to identify postgraduate courses. There are no hard figures yet on how many have travelled, but it’s certainly in four figures.”

One of the attractions of study in the EU is the relatively undemanding entry process. In many cases, a degree will suffice: students do not always need to have secured a particular minimum grade.

Fees for postgraduate degree programmes vary significantly across member states, but graduates from other member states can access the same subsidies, loans, grants and supports as local students. For example, there are no fees for EU students joining programmes in public universities in Sweden, Denmark, Finland or Norway. Fees in public universities in Holland, Italy, Germany, Austria and Switzerland are low by comparison with postgraduate programme fees here. Eastern Europe is also emerging as an attractive destination for graduate tourism.

In 2012, the maintenance grant for postgraduate students here was abolished, pushing the real cost of postgraduate study out of the reach of many graduates. Canny graduates can tap into a pool of over €16 billion worth of funding awarded for study through EU scholarships each year. They can also avail of local supports offered by the universities themselves. To find more information about these, visit

Language is not an issue. The majority of leading EU higher education institutions offer master’s and PhD programmes through English. One of Italy’s leading HEIs, the Politecnico di Milano, now delivers all of its courses through English. In some instances you pay a premium for a postgraduate course delivered through English, but where that happens, for example in some universities in the Czech Republic, it can mean a premium of €1,000 for an otherwise free university, so it’s not punitive.

In some cases, the universities offering free and subsidised postgraduate programmes in Europe are further up the university league tables than many Irish and UK institutions. Maarten Dickhoff of the communications department of the University of Groningen (currently ranked 98 in the TES World University Rankings) counts more than 80 postgraduate courses available through English at the Netherlands university.

“The past couple of years we have been promoting our English language bachelor’s degree courses at the Irish Higher Options event; we have noticed exponential growth in the enrolment of Irish students at Groningen over the past couple of years,” says Dickhoff. “Now we see huge potential in the postgraduate market in Ireland, especially with the introduction of tuition fees for postgraduate study in the UK, a traditional destination for Irish graduates.” The tuition fees for a postgraduate course in University of Groningen are €1,900 for one year – around half the cost of many postgraduate programmes here.

“The cost of living in Holland for a student, including tuition, accommodation and all other costs, is about €10,000 per annum,” says Dickhoff. “Compared to £9,000 [€10,898] for tuition alone in the UK, not including cost of living, it compares well. With the news of the rise of the tuition fees three years ago we started to see a big increase in postgraduate students from the UK. We notice Ireland is one or two years behind the UK market, and they are starting to find us now.”

The Netherlands is probably the most popular postgraduate destination after the UK, says Anna Boyd of the Student World, but other EU member states are emerging.

“The postgraduate market has always been active, especially in areas such as international politics, business and research,” says Boyd. “The introduction of fees in the UK is having quite an effect. Students from Ireland who would previously have gone to the UK are now looking for lower-cost options. The Netherlands is increasingly attracting Irish because of the fee structure, but up-and-coming areas include Denmark, Bulgaria, and Croatia.

“There are some beautiful destinations to study in English. There are no fees in the Scandinavian countries but you have to factor in the cost of living as well.”

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