Erasmus scheme expansion to benefit thousands of Irish students

Taoiseach says one of his ‘big regrets’ is not taking opportunity to study abroad

Last week Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said one of his biggest regrets was never taking the opportunity to study abroad during his college years.

While he says he had the option of going on Erasmus to "Berlin, Madrid or Barcelona," he let the chance slip by.

"One of the few upsides of Brexit is that British universities will not be part of Erasmus anymore, meaning that more Irish students studying in Manchester or Birmingham will hopefully take the opportunity to study in continental Europe, " the Taoisech said, this week.

This year it is anticipated that more than 4,000 Irish student s in higher education will take part in Erasmus ( study programmes in Europe at 33 participating universities for between three and 12 months.


The number is set to growing over the coming years as European policy-makers expand the programme which celebrated its 30th birthday last year.

While on Erasmus, students are exempt from paying tuition fees at the host institution and can receive financial support from the European Commission to help cover their expenses.

The Commission supports students for a maximum of 12 months and a student can start their mobility anytime from the end of their first year in university to one year after they graduate (post-graduation students are only eligible to take part in traineeships).

Upon completion of their study programme, students receive full recognition of their Erasmus study programme utilising the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS).

Under the its new education action plan, the Government projects that a record 4,000 third-level students in Ireland will take up the scheme in the coming ademic year.

These numbers are set to grow further over the coming years with a planned expansion of the overall scheme.

Dolce vita

So, what do particpants make of it? Pádraig Ó Dhonnabháin from Whitegate in Co Cork is currently enjoying a stint at la dolce vita at Università Ca' Foscari of Venice as part of hiw world languages degree at UCC.

To further improve his Italian - he is also studying Spanish and Chinese - the 21 year old decided that a college year in Italy would not only develop his language skills, but also allow him the opportunity to experience life abroad.

“I decided to take part in Erasmus because it is a unique opportunity to live a year in another country and take on the challenges of living far away from Ireland while still having a solid support network from home,” he says.

"I chose Ca' Foscari because of its great reputation for language teaching, especially oriental languages and because if I had gone to China this year I would not have been able to study Italian and Spanish.

“And I must say that all the teachers and lecturers that I have had so far are really fantastic, I’ve been very impressed by them.”

Ó Dhonnabháin, who comes from a farming background, says the move to UCC prepared him somewhat for living in Italy and while he does admit to missing home at times; Venice has a lot to offer.

“Life away from home is brilliant and moving to Cork City for college two years ago was a very effective stepping stone to moving abroad, although I did feel a bit homesick in the beginning after the novelty wore off.

“However I made some really great friends who were very welcoming and I am so grateful for that.

“ I don’t know any Irish students here and to be honest I haven’t looked for them as I came with the intention of making only Italian and non-English speaking friends and it’s worked out great. I’ve been essentially boycotted English since I arrived and it helps to learn so much faster.”


Inside the classroom, the Cork student says there isn’t too much difference between the Italian and the Irish format, however most of the exams are done orally which can take some getting used to.

For the oral exams, students must book exam slots in advance and the lecturer, often accompanied by another teacher or assistant, sits behind their desk at the end of the room (with the rest of the class in attendance). Each student is examined face-to -face by the lecturers.

“It can be nerve-wracking but I like it as in practice you can subtly change the questions asked by the examiners and talk about what you know best. You are also free to attend an exam and observe other students to see how well they respond - so it’s very different to the Irish system.”

If there are downsides, it’s the formality of the third-level system in Italy - and being away from friends and family.

“Compared to university in Ireland, here it is a very formal affair so the friendly student-teacher rapport of UCC is a world away,” says Ó Dhonnabháin.

“But the cons are minimal apart from missing my family and friends and nowadays with WhatsApp and FaceTime it’s easy to stay in touch so it’s much less of a problem.

“I would definitely recommend Erasmus to other students, it’s a fantastic opportunity to live in another country and if you manage to settle in and make some good friends it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience which you will carry in your heart for life.”