There’s more than one way to get to college

While the CAO is the main route for entering college in Ireland, there are other options for third level

Mon, Jan 6, 2014, 00:00

What determines whether you get a place on your dream course? All reputable colleges set minimum academic standards which students must meet before they are offered a place. In Ireland matriculation is the term used to define the standard required to secure a place on most undergraduate degrees. It requires two higher level C3s plus four ordinary level D3s at Leaving Certificate level.

Why, then, are very few potential learners aware this is the required standard for a college place? Since the mid 1970s the number of school leavers with matriculation or above has far exceeded the numbers of places on offer on most courses. Since then there has been further competition among the suitably qualified applicants, referred to as the points race, which shuts out a large portion of them from their desired course.

Is there any way around this dilemma? Private education has grown to over 12 per cent of the third level sector in response to the demands of disappointed students. Also, the acute shortage of young people in Europe has led to colleges offering over 850 programmes taught exclusively through English, to attract applicants from outside their domestic market.

In 2012 the University of Groningen in the Netherlands switched all undergrad programmes in its faculty of maths and natural sciences to be taught through English, reflecting English as the language of science in the 21st century. This opened access for Irish students to courses once beyond their reach because of our domestic points race.

It is almost 15 years since the first wave of Irish students started fee-paying programmes in veterinary and human medicine in universities in Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. The community of Irish students in Budapest is now so large it has established its own GAA club. For details of these programmes email Dr Timothy O’Leary, veterinary surgeon, at

In the past three years a second wave of students has secured places in European public universities, particularly in the Netherlands, in non-health science subjects such as psychology, politics, business, liberal arts and sciences and international law. As the number of Irish students on these programmes has grow,n the range has evolved to include life sciences, physiotherapy, fine art, performing arts, game design, and engineering. These students go to both research universities (seven Dutch universities are ranked higher than TCD0 and universities of applied sciences.

Apart from the Netherlands the most popular European destinations are Denmark and Germany.

How expensive is it for Irish students to take up a place in an EU university?
All EU citizens must be treated equally when it comes to third level costs. Unlike the €2,750 registration costs in Ireland, tuition is free in Scandinavia and Malta, between €600 and €3,000-plus in Italy, where tuition fees are fixed with reference to family income, with the average Irish student paying €900 per annum, including for medicine.

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