Higher Education in Ireland



Ireland, situated in Western Europe is an increasingly popular destination for students from all over the world.  Much of the countryside remains unspoilt; providing an excellent natural habitat for a flourishing flora and fauna.

A member of the European Union (EU) since 1973, Irish economy has consistently boasted the highest growth rate in the EU. The economy is particularly well developed in the areas of software development, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and international services.

Ireland is the European hub to over 1,000 leading global companies including Google, Facebook, Ericsson, Allianz, Paypal, Abbott SAP, etc. One of the driving factors is its highly educated workforce. According to QS World University Ranking 2012/13, all of Ireland’s universities are ranked in the top 5% globally. Based on Wall Street Journal November 2013 issue, Ireland is Europe’s most entrepreneurial country.

English is the predominant language spoken in Ireland.  Irish people are renowned for their friendliness and hospitality which contributes to the ease with which overseas students adapt to student life in Ireland.

In 2016, Ireland is home to over 35,000 international students and there are over 105,000 international students in Ireland to learn English language each year. There is an estimate of 1,850 Malaysian students in Ireland and about two thirds of them are studying medicine.

All areas of the country are accessible by train or bus services. The main airports in the country are in Dublin, Shannon, Cork and Belfast, but there are also a number of regional airports. All offer very regular (and often low cost ) services to and from most cities in the UK, European cities and several American cities. Ferry services operate from several ports on the East and South coasts to England, Scotland, Wales and France.

Students holding an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) can generally avail of discounts on public transport.


Ireland enjoys a temperate climate influenced by the relatively warm waters of the Gulf Stream in whose path the island lies. During the winter months, the temperatures rarely drop below freezing point and snow is uncommon. The coldest and wettest months are December and January, which have mean temperatures of between 5° C and 8° C. July and August are the warmest months with mean temperature of between 15° C and 17° C, rarely rising above 20° C. The is also abundant rain water which makes the grass green.


Irish Education System was traditionally divided into three basis levels. Primary (8 years), Secondary (5 to 6 years) and Tertiary Level which offers a wide range of opportunities from post-secondary courses to vocational and technical training, to full degree and the highest postgraduate levels.

In recent years, the focus has expanded to include pre-school education and adult and further education as the concept of lifelong learning becomes reflected in the education opportunities available in the Irish education system.

Attendance at full time education is compulsory from six to fifteen years of age and is free at the majority of schools and at undergraduate level. Education is considered a fundamental right under Irish constitution.

Secondary Education

Secondary education is split into two cycles. The three year Junior cycle is followed by an optional “Transitional Year” which allows students to be away from the exam focus  to experience a wide range of educational inputs, life skills and work experience. The two year Senior cycle leads to the Leaving Certificate Examination. Most students sit at least six subjects in this exam and access to higher education is normally determined by the results obtained.

Further Education & Training

A wide range of technical and vocational programmes are available in Ireland. These programmes, which are offered by a variety of public and private colleges, provide work skill and experience as well as lifelong learning opportunities and pathways into higher education. Awards are validated by the Irish government’s Quality & Qualifications Ireland (QQI).

Post Leaving Certificate Courses (PLCs)

These courses are designed to prepare students for employment or further education and training. There is a broad spectrum of courses available. PLCs, the majority of which are of one year duration, are organised and offered in secondary schools.

Other Post-Secondary Training

Outside the education system, there are a number of vocationally oriented programmes with emergence of online and distance learning such as eCollege (www.ecollege.ie).

Higher Education

Ireland’s higher education system is broad in scope and is noted for its emphasis on quality, its close links to industry and research and its ability to be creative, dynamic and flexible. Participation rates are high with 60 percent of students who have completed secondary level going on to tertiary level. Entry to tertiary level is therefore keenly competitive.

The higher education system includes the universities and the institutes of technology – which are publicly funded – and independent colleges which are privately funded. There are 7 universities, 14 institutes of technologies and 10 private higher education institutions in Ireland. The quality of universities is assured both by the Irish government and by the universities own internal and international peer based mechanisms. The Irish government’s Quality & Qualifications Ireland (QQI) provides stringent quality assurance for all qualifications awarded in Ireland.


Overseas students wishing to study in Ireland have two options:

*   Attend upper secondary school in Ireland and complete the Leaving Certificate Examination with Irish students. This route is chosen by a number of students who commonly take the examination in conjunction with English language tuition.

*   Undertake recognised pre-university public examinations in one’s own country and then proceed to tertiary education in Ireland. This is the more common route.

The general entry requirement for tertiary education in Ireland is STPM/A-Level or its equivalent. Different courses may have specific subject requirements.

Students must demonstrate a certain proficiency in English to be accepted for a tertiary level programme. Generally, the required minimum score in TOEFL is 500 (paper-based), 61 (internet-based), 173 (computer based), or IELTS 6.0-6.5, or Cambridge-First Certificate in English (FCE) or higher, or ETAPP grade B2, or PTE Academic 30.

Many universities and colleges provide English Language training programmes for intending students. Furthermore, there are over 100 recognised private English training schools throughout the country which run both short and long term courses.


Tuition fees, accommodation and living expenses vary considerably depending on the course, the institution and the lifestyle of the student. The figures given below provide a guideline for budgeting. Costs do not remain static, so it is important to double check fees with the Institution(s) you are considering applying to, and to ask their advice on other living costs.

Tuition Fees

The average annual tuition fees for 2016/17 for undergraduate and postgraduate, non-E.U. students at a tertiary level institution are as follows:

Course Undergraduate Postgraduate
Medicine & related €45,000 – €52,000 € 4,000 – € 31,000
Engineering € 9,750 – € 23,000 € 9,250 – € 24,000
Science & Technology € 9,750 – € 22,000 € 9,250 – € 45,000
Arts & Humanities € 9,750 – € 20,000 € 9,250 – € 22,000
Business & related € 9,750 – € 18,000 € 9,250 – € 34,500

Euro (€) is the currency in use in Ireland.

Living Expenses

The following are approximate figures of living expenses as a guide to overall expenses for one month. An estimate of €1,000 per month is recommended. However, this varies depending on location and the type of accommodation.

Expenses Breakdown (per month)

Textbooks € 500 (One-off expenses)
Accommodation (including heat & light)
–  Self Catering Accommodation
–  On Campus Accommodation
–  Family-based Accommodation
€ 400-+++
€ 350-450
€ 320-600
Food & Household  (approximately per month) € 200-300
Other Living Expenses
–  Travel, Health, Insurance, Social life, Communications, Miscellaneous expenses per month (depending on location & lifestyle)
€ 150-450


English Language Students:

Most English Language Institutes include accommodation in their fees and have it arranged for the student upon arrival, often with a host family.

Tertiary Level Students:

Most tertiary level institutions have on-campus student residences, often resembling small villages with onsite facilities such as shops, laundrettes, restaurants, etc. Prospective students should contact the host institution for further details.

Another popular option, particularly in the main cities is self-catering rented accommodation, often shared with other students. Alternatively, students may opt for host family accommodation.

Note: Most tertiary level institutions have an Accommodation Office, a good first point of call for overseas students in their search for suitable accommodation. Accommodation can also be found through the local newspapers and estate agents in the cities.

Health & Welfare System

Ireland’s health system is run by regional health boards which are all centrally controlled by the Department of Health and Children.

A student health service is provided for students at tertiary level institutions. It is free of charge and completely confidential. It is staffed by doctors, nurses and counsellors who are equipped to deal with various medical problems. However, this service does not provide 24-hour cover.

Students are strongly advised to arrange for insurance for private medical care as this ensures choice of hospital, doctor and hospital accommodation in the event of illness. It is possible to obtain private medical insurance from the Voluntary Health Insurance Board (VHI) or from BUPA Ireland to cover private medical care.


Malaysian students do not require visas to go to Ireland. ASEAN students from the following countries require a visa: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Students from other countries should contact the Irish Diplomatic Mission in their own country regarding visas application.


International students do not need a work permit to work in Ireland. EU/EEA nationals have the same entitlement to take up employment as that of an Irish person. Non-EU/EEA students are entitled to work up to 20 hours part-time per week during study time and up to 40 hours per week during the university holidays. The entitlement to take up work ceases once the student visa expires.

Under the Irish Graduate Scheme, non-EU graduates have the option to remain in Ireland for one year upon completion of study to look for full-time employment.


Ireland’s landscape provides a rich environment for the many outdoor leisure pursuits. Water sports, hill walking, rock climbing and caving are just a few of the many activities which can be enjoyed when taking a break from study.

A large variety of cultural attractions, musical entertainment venues, museums, art galleries, theatres, clubs and restaurants can be enjoyed in Dublin and in the major cities of Ireland; Cork, Waterford, Galway, Limerick and Belfast.


There is a wide choice of food stores and restaurants in Ireland catering to all tastes and pockets. As the number and variety of overseas nationals has grown in recent years, so too has the diversity of foods and ingredients. Students should therefore have no difficulty satisfying special religious or dietary requirements, particularly in the larger cities. Restaurants and cafes at the colleges and universities sell nutritious, reasonably priced meals. Snack food outlets are widely available and fast food restaurants are generally open till midnight.

Shopping hours vary but generally big department stores are open from 9.00 am until 5.30 pm Monday to Saturday with late night shopping on Thursday and Friday until 9.00 pm. Increasing number of supermarkets and smaller shops are open seven days a week (often for 24 hours – particularly in the larger cities) and the local “corner shop” is always on hand for those essential items.


www.ecollege.ie – Online & Distance Learning
www.failteireland.ie – National Tourism Development Authority
www.qqi.ie – Quality & Qualifications Ireland
www.hea.ie – Higher Education Authority
www.sfi.ie – Science Foundation Ireland
www.acels.ie – Advisory Council for English Language Schools
www.mei.ie – Marketing English in Ireland
www.cao.ie – Central Application Office
www.dfa.ie – Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade


Written by:       
Ms Wee Hui Bieh, AFMSA, October 2016

Information Source:
1. Enterprise Ireland, Singapore.
2. Mr Cormac Kavanagh, Education Consultant – ASEAN

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