CAO Watch: College abroad is an option worth studying

University fees are minimal or even non-existent in many European countries

Global college: The costs of moving abroad are not as high as some might think. If students qualify for an Irish maintenance grant, they can take it with them to an EU university

The numbers of students from the Republic choosing to study in the UK has fallen to about 2,000 in the past three years.

The reason? Massive fees increases introduced in 2012 . Annual college tuition costs in the UKnow range from £3,000 to £9,000 (€3,800 to €11,500).

No tuition fees are charged to Irish students currently studying in Scottish universities, which sees 400-500 new Irish students starting their studies there each year.

Just as in Ireland, the most sought-after and difficult to secure places in UK applications system are medicine, veterinary and dentistry.


Health-related courses

Almost half of those who secure places through Ucas each year do so in paramedical programmes such as nursing, where the NHS in England has – up to now – provided a means-tested bursary of up to £5,460 a year to cover living for students.

Watch out, though. From 2017/18, new students on nursing, midwifery and allied health professional pre-registration courses in England will have to take out maintenance and tuition loans rather than getting an NHS grant.

These changes may lead to a further dramatic decrease in the number of Irish students seeking places in nursing and other para-medical courses for study in England.

Those interested in a college place in 2016 in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales or England should submit their application to by Friday, January 15th.

While we in Ireland are currently considering adopting the policy of funding our third level system through a student loan scheme, there is a different model on our doorstep. In many European countries, fees are minimal or even non-existent. About 1,000 of these courses provide tuition exclusively through English.

More than a quarter of these programmes are based in the Netherlands where annual fees are €1,951. In Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and many German states there are no fees. In Austria, Switzerland and Belgium fees are usually less than €1,000 a year.

Many of the continental European universities are higher ranked than most of our Irish colleges.

Furthermore, most programmes, including those at the very best universities, look only for NUI matriculation (six passes, two at honours H5 or above, to include maths and a language). Many will also seek to interview you or look for a personal statement and/or references from your school.

Maintenance grant

The costs of moving abroad are not as high as you might think. If you qualify for an Irish maintenance grant, you can take it with you to an EU university. The cost of living in most European cities (with exceptions such as Oslo or Copenhagen) is usually less than in Dublin. There is a wide variety of help for students such as free health care in Denmark or free travel in the Netherlands.

There is no centralised application system for Europe similar to the CAO. Universities require students to apply directly to them through their own online systems.

Different colleges, even different faculties within the same university, have different processes and application deadlines.

Through the Eunicas system ( a student can apply to up to eight programmes across Europe. Eunicas will offer advice on the course choice you may be considering and ensure applications arrive on time in the correct format, with supporting documentation.

The service – which costs €28 – also gives support and advice to parents and students throughout the process and makes contact with admissions’ counsellors for specific programmes, or sets up appointments for students to check out universities.