Brexit prompts tumble in number of Irish students going to UK

Almost half of first year in veterinary science in Warsaw and Budapest are Irish

More than 2,000 Irish students are currently studying in some of Europe’s premier universities. Photograph: iStock

A few short years ago, thousands of Irish school-leavers were applying for UK-based courses. These numbers have tumbled in more recent times. Higher college fees, the removal of NHS funding of nursing and paramedical, and uncertainty over Brexit have contributed to a big drop in applications to UK universities from Irish students.

If you are considering applying to the UK system – Ucas ( – there is no time to wait: the closing date for most courses is today, January 15th.

In the meantime, a whole new set of degree programmes taught through English have opened in EU member states on the Continent.

More than 2,000 Irish students are currently studying in some of Europe’s premier universities, many of them higher-ranked than Irish third-level institutions. This number is growing year on year.


As recently as five years ago, most of the students who accepted third-level places in eastern European cities were students who were not able to get the points to study medicine and veterinary science in Ireland.

Almost half of the first year in veterinary science in Warsaw and Budapest are Irish. Fees for these eastern European courses are in the region of €10,000 per year.

Although students are still travelling to study these medical-related courses across Europe, they are increasingly being attracted by a wider range of disciplines.

Many of the Irish students studying in Europe today are by no means “points refugees”, accepting places abroad because they failed to secure sufficient points for Irish university.

Many are opting to go to Maastricht, Groningen or Amsterdam and ignoring CAO offers of places in our top universities.

Right to learn

European third-level systems operate, in most cases, a philosophy where students have a “right to an education”, and they do not select based on Leaving Cert points.

Most EU research universities only require six H6/O6 at Leaving Cert, two or three of which must be at H4 or higher. The less academic “applied universities” will accept a QQI/Fetac level five as meeting their entry requirements.

A handful of programmes will select based on letters of motivation, interviews, online assessment and so on.

Undergraduate programmes, taught through English, are offered in more than 20 EU countries. There is no CAO-style application system co-ordinating entry to these programmes, so students are faced with understanding the vagaries of more than 20 different systems.

There is some level of CAO-style centralisation in four countries: Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.

However, in the Netherlands, students are also required to register on their own online portals. Different universities, even different faculties within the same university, will have different processes and application deadlines.

One of the attractions for Irish students is that, on graduation, they will have international experience and a qualification that will prove attractive to employers in an increasingly internationalised employment market.

Low or no fees

Another attraction is cost: there are free or low fees in many countries. In Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Germany there are no fees. In Italy, including the 10 medicine programmes taught through English, fees of €650-€3,800 per year are fixed with reference to family income.

In the Netherlands the fee for most courses is €2,060 a year. However, all EU students are entitled to a low interest loan from the Dutch government to pay these costs, repayable over 35 years.

There are also loans/grants of about €800 per annum from the Dutch and Danish governments for those with part-time jobs. Also, if you qualify for an Irish maintenance grant , you can take it with you to an EU university.

Most have open days and many have excellent "student for a day" programmes. If you can't yet fit in a visit abroad, the universities are increasingly visiting Ireland, and are always in attendance at the Irish Times Higher Options Conference in the RDS in September.

A good resource is Eunicas (, where there is advice on courses and the application process. They can also put students in direct contact with the admissions counsellors for their chosen programmes, or set up appointments with these universities to check them out. The cost of this service is €28.

  • Tomorrow: Students with disabilities can benefit from lower points requirements