Tertiary Education in Ireland

Tertiary education in Ireland has a long history and a high reputation. Currently, over 50% of Irish students go on from school to study some form of higher education at the universities in Ireland ­ one of the highest rates in the developed world. The names given to the different types of educational institute differ from their counterparts in the UK and a distinction has to be drawn between Further Education and Higher Education.

Further Education

Further Education is not a part of the tertiary sector in the way it is in other countries, but instead refers to post-secondary education (and training) as distinct from the third (tertiary) level of the universities in Ireland. It is run by The Department of Education and Science and includes educational provision in a variety of forms including adult literacy, vocational courses, schemes for the unemployed and certificate-level courses. It tends to be very community-based and has strong links with employment, justice and social groups.

Higher Education in Ireland

There are four elements to the system of higher education in Ireland: the university sector, the technological sector, the colleges of education and the independent colleges. The first three of these are public and funded by the state. The increase in the take-up of higher education has been rapid and in the academic year 2001/2002 it had reached almost 125,000.

University Sector

There are seven universities in the Republic of Ireland:

  • University College Cork - National University of Ireland, Cork
  • University College Dublin, National University of Ireland, Dublin
  • National University of Ireland, Galway
  • National University of Ireland, Maynooth
  • The University of Dublin (Trinity College)
  • The University of Limerick
  • Dublin City University

These universities in Ireland are mainly involved in the delivery of undergraduate and post-graduate degree programmes; at undergraduate level, teaching is given in the form of lectures backed up with tutorials, practical work and the writing of a thesis. Masters degrees involve more course work and research, and doctorates are research-based. Universities in Ireland award their own degrees and the system is overseen by the Higher Education Authority, which works on behalf of the Department of Education and Science.

The Technological Sector

The Department of Education and Science has responsibility for this sector, which comprises fourteen institutes of technology, some of which were upgraded from Technical Colleges in the late 90’s. The qualifications offered by these institutes have international recognition. They offer a wide range of courses from certificate level up to PhD. Ireland is an important player in high tech industry such as computer software and pharmaceuticals and its technological learning facilities reflect this status; the science, technology and business departments are central components in institutes of technology.

The Independent Sector and Colleges of Education

An important part of the tertiary system of education in Ireland is the independent sector; this comprises a wide range of at least twenty five colleges validated by HETAC, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council. The courses offered by these institutions include a large number in the professional fields such as law, business, medicine and accountancy, as well as those in the humanities, tourism and catering. Some independent colleges are linked with public sector institutions, which provide accreditation for the courses, and all accreditation in Ireland is overseen by the National Qualifications Authority (www.nqai.ie).

Colleges of Education offer courses for those wishing to become primary school teachers in Ireland. Secondary school teachers study at university to degree level and then take a yearlong education diploma. At primary level, Irish language ability is generally required.

The following websites will be useful for those requiring more detailed information about accreditation, lists of universities & colleges in Ireland, technology institutes and the higher education system generally.



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