When studying abroad is the smart option
Excellent international reputations, low or even no tuition fees, and courses taught in English: the EU option may make sense for you
Irish students are so accustomed to competing for college places it seems strange that leading universities might be jockeying for their attention, but that is exactly what’s happening.
Although Ireland has more students than it does university places for them, Europe is experiencing an acute shortage of young people, because of low birth rates in many countries. As a result, an increasing number of EU third-level institutions, many of them very highly ranked, are offering undergraduate programmes taught exclusively through English.
It’s not all about numbers. Offering courses through English is a highly effective marketing tool for universities, and native English speakers are attractive applicants from colleges’ perspective.
Many students on the English-language programmes will not be native speakers, but the presence of native speakers on a course improves the quality of spoken English in the class very quickly. Added to that, the presence of students from other EU countries improves the international quotient, which helps universities when they are being assessed for global international rankings.
The Netherlands has been the primary driving force in all of this. It is currently the most popular destination, with highly ranked research universities and very good universities of applied sciences, which all offer growing portfolios of programmes taught through English.
Other countries are running to catch up, and nearly 800 undergraduate programmes taught through English are now available to Irish students on mainland Europe.
What about the expense?
Many of these excellent programmes have no, or very low, tuition fees thanks to the rules governing the European Union. If a university is offering a degree course to local students without charge, as in much of Scandinavia, or for a fixed low charge, as in many other countries in western Europe, then Irish students are also entitled to those terms.
There are no fees in the four Scandinavian countries and in some German states. Public-university fees in Belgium, Austria, Italy and Switzerland are between €500 and €1,500 a year.
Unfortunately, many of the medicine and veterinary programmes in EU universities are more expensive, at about €10,000 (though this can vary from country to country), as they are targeted at international students and are not available to their own nationals – similar to the way the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland operates.
Fees in the Netherlands are only €1,835 a year (for nonmedical or veterinary courses), and it is relatively easy to secure a loan or a grant from the Dutch government to pay them.
Irish students are taking note. Universities across the Continent, and farther afield, are reporting a significant increase in the number of applications from Irish students this year. Numbers are set to continue growing steeply in the coming years, partly because of the sharp increase in tuition fees in England, Irish students’ traditional alternative destination.
The study-abroad phenomenon started with students seeking alternative routes to careers in health science, particularly medicine, but students are increasingly enrolling on programmes in disciplines such as liberal arts, biosciences, environmental sciences, international law, politics, digital media and international business.
As students on these programmes begin to report on the quality of the courses, in terms of the teaching, the resources attached to most EU universities and the lifestyles that students enjoy, it looks as if Irish third-level colleges are going to find it progressively harder to attract the brightest students to their programmes.