Opportunities to study in European universities continue to expand

Change of mind: Study abroad

Aarhus University, Denmark. Free fees or no fees at all are a feature of European courses

Aarhus University, Denmark. Free fees or no fees at all are a feature of European courses


Given the high points requirements in our system, many Irish students look at alternatives to the CAO system. An increasing number of students go to continental Europe every year. This trend has grown over the past 10 years, and meets the needs of many who have more than the basic entry requirements of Irish colleges, but not the 500-plus points needed for their preferred courses.

While there are universities, colleges of education, institutes of technology, private colleges and a number of specialist institutions in Ireland ’s CAO application system, in continental Europe there are three principal types of university: research universities; universities of applied sciences (UAS), which are similar to our Institutes of Technology and are largely in northern Europe; and private universities, which charge higher fees.

There are a number of reasons for this growing trend:

Programmes are taught in English.

Fast-track your employment prospects

from a reputable university gives a skills-set that’s attractive to employers. The quality of your education, together with your international experience, perspectives and networks will stand out on your CV when you graduate. If you choose to return to Ireland, you will bring the contacts and relationships you have developed abroad which may be valuable to an Irish-based employer. If you choose to work abroad your attractiveness to an Irish employer grows.

Typically, students coming back from an extended stay abroad demonstrate a deeper sense of confidence and maturity.

Access to high-quality education and training

It may seem incredible to Irish students and their parents that places are readily available in universities that are high up in the major international college rankings. It’s a question of demographics. Our birth rate is one of the highest in Europe and we have no shortage of young people to fill every available college place, with many left disappointed. Continental European universities have exactly the opposite problem – low birth rates for many years, which has led to an acute shortage of young students for college places. European colleges’ difficulties are providing opportunities for Irish students.

Cost is less of a factor than you might think

In many countries, for example Denmark and Sweden, there are no tuition fees at all. In others (for example, Germany) there is only a semester fee of €200-€300, twice a year. Where there are fees, they are low: in the Netherlands fees are €1,906 a year and all EU citizens can get a low-interest loan over 15 years. In Italy, there are six programmes in medicine through English, and fees are only €600-€3,800 a year, set with reference to family income. In countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands you can access grants, but you usually need a part-time job to qualify. Of course, if you qualify for an Irish maintenance grant, you can take it with you to public universities in the EU. Apart from traditionally expensive cities such as Copenhagen or Paris, living costs are usually lower than in Dublin, and equivalent to, though often lower than, Cork.


requirements are very reasonable.

prohibited by statute from basing their selection on grades. Invariably across Europe, grade requirements are much lower than here, though in the most popular programmes such as medicine, psychology or physiotherapy there is a selection procedure, which might include a test, interview or letter of motivation (by the applicant), or letter of recommendation (by the school), as well as considering grades, or a combination of these. Some programmes, particularly the health sciences, have entrance tests.

How to apply

Applications for 2014 are still open for a significant number of programmes, largely in universities of applied sciences and private universities, but also some in research universities. Even where the official application deadline has passed, it is worth approaching a university, even some of the very top research universities, to see if they will consider your application.

Eunicas has relationships with most of these colleges, and can clarify if a place may still be secured, even if the application date has already passed. Eunicas.ie has details of all 900-plus third-level courses taught through English in continental European universities. The information is free. Individual advice is available from Guy Flouch of Eunicas for a €28 fee, offering support in making multiple applications to EU universities.

Most of the free-fees Scandinavian programmes are now closed, though some might open for vacant places in July, and all low-fee medical programmes, such as those in Italy, Netherlands and Malta, are now closed to applicants for the coming academic year.

Some programmes are still available for 2014-2015. Medical, veterinary, physiotherapy and nursing degrees are still available in a number of eastern European universities at fees of between €8,000 and €11,000. The University of Malta, which has a July 24th application deadline, has a number of nursing, physiotherapy and psychology places on offer, with no fees.

In liberal arts and science, arts and culture, international law, European/international relations, international business, information technology/ computer science, games design/ multimedia design, media and entertainment management, engineering and life sciences, there is a range of universities, mainly in the Netherlands, still accepting applications, with fees of €1,906 per year.

Finally, performing arts and fine art the Institute of Arts in Barcelona and Prague College are still accepting applications (fees of €9,950 and €4,250 respectively).

Other alternatives

For those seeking an apprenticeship, the existing FÁS training centres are being integrated into the new Education Training Boards and will in time form part of a restructured further education and training sector. Given the collapse of the construction industry there have been few apprenticeship placements for school leavers for at least five years. Under the current model of training, if you are interested in a placement in a trade you must find a qualified tradesperson with ongoing work, for you to do the seven phases of training with over three years. Solas, which is overseeing the new model, is developing new apprenticeships for new and emerging industries.

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