Where to study in Ireland: A break down of the different 3rd level institutions

There are fantastic opportunities available to study in Ireland for further and third-level education.

With such a large range of options though, choosing what’s best for you can sometimes seem daunting. Some 235,000 students were enrolled to study in Ireland through its universities, institutes and colleges in 2017/18. At times, researching study opportunities can leave you with more questions than answers. However, by the end of this read, you will have all the information you need to make an informed choice for your future.

More information for applying to universities in Ireland for EU/EAA students and international students can be found here.

Third level study in Ireland is provided by universities, colleges and institutes of technology. So, what’s the difference between all these institutes? Let’s start with National Universities of Ireland:

The National University of Ireland (NUI)

NUI status universities are part of the federal university system called the National University of Ireland. The NUI oversees the education standards of its associated institutions. Therefore, the degrees and diplomas received from these organisations are of those of the National University of Ireland. 

There are just four universities in Ireland associated with NUI: 

University College Dublin 

UCD is Ireland’s largest university with over 32,000 students currently enrolled in its programmes. The college was established in 1854. It is located at Belfield, on a sprawling campus four kilometres south of the city centre. It has six main colleges: Arts and Humanities, Business, Engineering and Architecture, Health and Agricultural Sciences, Social Science and Law, and Science. A whopping 29% of its student population are internationals who have chosen to study in Ireland through UCD.

The publication of the 2019 QS World University Rankings saw UCD come 1st in Ireland and 78th in the world for employability and reputation.

Famous alumni include James Joyce, Brian O’Driscoll, and Ryan Tubridy.

University College Cork 

UCC is Ireland’s largest university outside of Dublin, accommodating some 1400 students. It has pride of place along the River Lee in Cork city centre. UCC has been awarded Irish University of the Year status five times by the Sunday Times newspaper. It’s programmes stem from its School of Law and five main departments; Accounting and Finance, Business Information Systems, Economics, Food Business and Development, and Management and Marketing.

Alumni of interest include Cilian Murphy, Des Bishop, and Michaél Martin. 

National University of Ireland Galway  

NUIG is centrally located in the charming city of Galway, on the west coast of Ireland. It opened its doors in 1845. Today it has a student population of more than 17,000 students. The university has been awarded the full five star rating in the QS World University Rankings. It boasts five colleges: Arts, Social Sciences and Celtic Studies, Business, Public Policy and Law, Engineering and Informatics, Science, and Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences.

Notable alumni include Michael D. Higgins, Enda Kenny, and Martin Sheen. 

Maynooth University

MU was originally established in 1795 under the name St Patrick’s University Ireland. Since 1997 it has been recognised as a Constituent University of NUI. More than 14000 students from 95 countries are enrolled in MU. Its three main faculties: Arts, Celtic Studies and Philosophy, Science and Engineering, and Social Sciences. The university also possesses a state of the art School of Business.  

Famous alumni include John Hume and Brian Friel. 

Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland 

While there are officially only four establishments under NUI’s umbrella, RCSI is also recognised by the system. This medical education institute trains surgical practitioners all across Ireland. The campus sits in the centre of Dublin, beside St Stephens Green.

Ireland’s global reputation for academic excellence also originates from these non-NUI affiliated universities:

Trinity College Dublin  

Nestled right in the nucleus of Dublin City, TCD is the only constituent college of the University of Dublin. It is Ireland’s oldest surviving university, standing proudly since its establishment in 1592. As an associate college of Cambridge and Oxford, graduates of TCD can receive an equivalent degree from either establishment, with no further examination. 

The university has three academic faculties: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Health Sciences, and Engineering, Mathematics and Sciences. Over 2500 international students chose to study in Ireland through TCD’s programmes in 2016/17.

Alumni include Samuel Becket, Oscar Wilde, and Andrew Hozier-Byrne. 

University of Limerick 

Straddling Ireland’s longest river, the River Shannon, UL was first established in 1972. 16,000 students study its four faculties, which are: Kemmy Business School, Education and Health Sciences, Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Science and Engineering. 

Dublin City University 

DCU is located in Northside Dublin. It houses 17,000 students who study in the fields of Humanities and Social Sciences, Engineering and Computing, Science and Health, DCU Business School, and  DCU Institute of Education. 

Technological University Dublin 

On January 1st, 2019, TU Dublin became the first technological university on the island of Ireland. It is an amalgamation of three pre-existing institutes of technology: Dublin Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown, and Institute of Technology, Tallaght. With a student population of 28,500, this university is the second-largest in Dublin, behind UCD It’s campus consists of the three amalgamated institute’s grounds, found in Tallaght, Blanchardstown, and Grangegorman (in Dublin City Centre).  

Now we have a grasp of our universities, you may wonder; what’s an institute of technology?

Institutes of Technology (IT)

The type of course offered is the main difference between an institute of technology and a university. Originally, IT courses focused on business, engineering and science at a National Certificate and National Diploma level. Later, Bachelor’s level qualifications were introduced. Now, even Master’s and Doctoral level qualifications can be granted by ITs.

Generally, ITs provide training for a specific skill or trade for a vocational role. Meanwhile, universities offer a broader, theoretical and academic education. In the words of the Higher Education Authority of Ireland (HEA), ITs emphasise the teaching of “programmes at level 6 to 8” and “industry-focused research”.

Following the inception of Technological University Dublin, there remains 11 institutes of technology in Ireland:

Athlone Institute of Technology 

AIT was established in 1970 and now hosts more than 5400 students. Its faculties are Business and Hospitality, Engineering and Informatics, Science and Health, and Lifelong Learning. It offers both undergraduate and postgraduate courses. 

Institute of Technology Carlow

IT Carlow is one of the largest technology colleges in Ireland, educating more than 8400 students. It has campuses in Carlow, Wexford, and Wicklow. Undergraduate programmes are available in Business, Sport Media and Marketing, Humanities, Science and Health, Computing, and Aerospace, Mechanical and Electronic Engineering. Postgraduate programmes are also available in a range of subjects. 

Cork Institute of Technology 

CIT has over 17,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students enrolled. Its main departments are Art and Design, Business and Humanities, Engineering and Science, and Music and Drama. The institute, established in 1974, has repeatedly been awarded Institute of Technology of the Year by The Sunday Times University Guide for Ireland. Its campus, found in Bishopstown, has won awards for design and architecture.

Dundalk Institute of Technology

DkITs four main schools are Business and Humanities, Engineering, Informatics and Creative Arts, and Health and Science. Over 5000 students are enrolled in undergraduate and postgraduate programmes here. 

Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology 

In IADT courses focus primarily on the creative arts and media. Its two main faculties are Film, Art and Creative Technologies and Enterprise and Humanities. There are more than 2500 students enrolled in IADT. The campus is located about two kilometres west of Dún Laoghaire town centre. 

Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology 

GMIT’s campus is spread across five locations in the west of Ireland. It offers both postgraduate and undergraduate study opportunities. 7000 students study in the institute’s grounds based in Galway city, Mayo, Letterfrack, and Mountbellow. 

Letterkenny Institute of Technology 

LyIT is currently one of the largest providers of third-level education in Ulster. Over 4000 students from 31 countries choose to study in Letterkenny. Its schools are Business, Engineering, Science, and Tourism. Courses are available for both undergraduate and postgraduate students. 

Limerick Institute of Technology 

LIT has campuses in Limerick City, Thurles, Clonmel, and Ennis. Approximately 7000 students study through the institute’s undergraduate and postgraduate courses. LIT contains faculties of Applied Science, Engineering, Technology, Business, Humanities, Art and Design and Sports, Leisure and Tourism. 

Institute of Technology, Sligo 

IT Sligo’s modernised campus now has state of the art technology and science buildings, a refurbished library, and a new student services building. The institute provides undergraduate and postgraduate tuition both in-person and online to its 6000 students. 

Institute of Technology, Tralee

IT Tralee offers a wide range of vocational and academic courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level. The institute has been serving it’s constituency since 1977. 

Waterford Institute of Technology 

WIT is the major provider of higher education for the south-east region of Ireland. Over 10,000 students are enrolled in its courses. Available qualifications range from Higher Certificate to Degree to PhD level. 

National Framework of Qualifications Ireland 

When choosing where to study in Ireland, it is important to understand what qualification you will receive upon its completion. Since 2003, Ireland has used the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) to measure and compare learning qualifications. This 10 level system ranks qualifications based on knowledge, skill and competences. Simply put, the levels show what students know, understand and are able to do upon graduation. 

This framework makes it easy to compare Irish qualifications and foreign qualifications. Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) are the body responsible for qualifications and quality assurance in further education and higher education in this country. Their website provides information on the programmes and awards from all the courses across Ireland

Nicholas Lane
Nicholas Lane

Student of English and French.
Born in Essex, bred in Donegal, buttered in Dublin.
Writer with Babylon Radio and UCD Tribune.
Radio presenter with UCD Belfield FM.

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