My son wants to go to a Dutch university. I’m worried he’s too young.

Ask Brian: Courses abroad can pose a major challenge for ‘spoon-fed’ students

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock


My son is keen on applying for a physiotherapy programme in a Dutch university but I’m nervous of him going abroad at such a young age. He has just turned 18. What are the implications for his career options in Ireland if he gets his degree abroad?

The number of Irish students going to universities in EU countries, particularly to the Netherlands, has increased from a handful to more than 1,000 in recent years.

Students typically attend courses that are taught exclusively through English in a wide range of “research universities”, equivalent to our traditional ones, and in “universities of applied sciences”, similar to our institutes of technology.

The entry requirements for all EU programmes are generally not dependent on CAO points, but are a variation of what we would refer to as matriculation: six passes in the Leaving Cert including two at H4.

Research universities may have a variety of further requirements. Leiden University, for example, has introduced a minimum requirement of 400 CAO points, and some faculties have concerns over the standard of higher-level maths and science subjects, as determined by the Irish Leaving Cert curriculums.

Universities of applied sciences may accept a relevant QQI level five award secured through a Post-Leaving Cert programme (PLC) for entry purposes.


Regarding your son’s youth, the first year in an EU university can be a real challenge for Irish students nurtured in our education culture of spoon-feeding, grinds and rote learning.

EU universities give students a high level of responsibility for their own learning, through problem-based learning, and weekly group projects, which are central to the assessment system.

Given these challenges, maybe a year in an appropriate PLC programme might prepare your son for the independent challenges which all universities set for students coming directly from our second-level school system.

If your concern is relating to his personal safety, crime rates in the Netherlands are among the lowest in the world. Chances are the worst he may experience is having his bicycle stolen.

Fees in Dutch universities are set at €2,083 a year and have been reduced by 50 per cent for first years in the past few years.

Accommodation costs are about €500 a month including utilities. Generous interest-free loans are available from the Dutch government, repayable over an extended period. Incidentally, there are no tuition fees for German, Danish and Scandinavian universities.

Regarding the career prospects of any Irish student graduating from an EU university, one’s contact database is key in a world of increasing globalisation, and a continental university will have a far wider geographic spread of graduates than an Irish one, although Irish universities now have 20 per cent-plus of international students on their campuses.

Full details of all EU university programmes taught through English are on

Dutch universities travel to Ireland regularly to inform parents and students of their offerings. They are presenting in Cork on October 21st; Galway, October 22nd, and Dublin, October 23rd.

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