When studying abroad is the smart option
On the other hand, this availability of college places could be a blessing in disguise for the Higher Education Authority as it grapples with the problem of accommodating the aspirations of the tens of thousands of additional Leaving Certificate students.
A demand for places elsewhere in the EU may relieve some of the pressure on the Irish system.
So what are the odds of getting a place if you apply? Rather than facing a CAO-style lottery, on the Continent it is accepted that every student who meets the minimum entry requirements has a right to attend the course of their choice. Entry requirements are therefore generally significantly lower than in Irish and UK universities. Entry to college often includes a mix of interview, a personal statement, references and sometimes grades.
There is a caveat, however. During a week at Maastricht University, in the Netherlands, last June I spoke to a number of Irish students studying there. Each of them made the point that although securing entry was far easier than in Ireland or the UK, retaining your place beyond first year was no easy task.
Problem-based learning is at the core of how programmes are delivered, and unless students commit themselves fully to their studies from day one they will very quickly find themselves getting their marching papers at the end of first year.
How to apply
Unfortunately for Irish students who are familiar with applying to a centralised office for all their third-level choices, the EU has no centralised admissions system.
This problem has been overcome somewhat through the development by a small Irish operation of a CAO-type application process, to cater for the growing interest from students in joining these programmes. Entitled Eunicas (European Universities Central Application Support Service), it supports students applying to up to eight programmes abroad.
Its website, eunicas.ie, has a complete database of all of the programmes taught through English in Europe. Registering costs €28, for which you have access to independent advice and expertise that will support your application to up to eight degree programmes across the Continent.
Students who used Eunicas for 2012 entry found the support and advice invaluable and reassuring. Particularly useful are the direct links it has with the universities.
The European experience What students say
University of Groningen, the Netherlands; international law
The beautiful old main building is right in the centre of town, and the faculty buildings and libraries are dotted around the place, a few minutes’ cycle down picturesque streets or over the canal. You get the impression that the entire town is the university campus: the streets, cafes and bars are filled with students from all over the world. As for the university itself, so far I have found the staff really nice and helpful, and the whole thing seems incredibly well organised. My course allows me study for an LLB in international rather than national law, which is why I chose it. I never wanted to study Irish law. Studying a subject like this as part of a class of students from so many vastly differing countries will be invaluable. Studying at home, I would not be with nearly as many other nationalities and would not be hearing as many different perspectives and points of view.