About Universities

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Universities traditionally sit at the top of the education system. They are third level educational institutions, granting academic degrees in a variety of subjects. Many Irish students decide to pursue higher education at a university after completing their Leaving Certificate.

The Republic of Ireland contains seven universities, three in Dublin (TCD, UCD, & DCU) and one each in Cork (UCC), Galway (NUIG), Limerick (UL), and Maynooth (NUIM). Northern Ireland has two universities – Queens in Belfast and the University of Ulster in Coleraine. There are seven universities in the Republic of Ireland, three in Dublin (TCD, UCD & DCU) and one each in Cork (UCC), Galway (NUIG), Limerick (UL) and Maynooth (NUIM). There are two universities in Northern Ireland – Queens in Belfast and the University of Ulster in Coleraine, respectively.

Irish universities offer degrees at Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate levels, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate diplomas. Universities are also involved in continual and distance education programmes. The history of Irish universities both interesting and quite complicated. Trinity College Dublin (TCD) is Ireland’s oldest university, established in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I. The Three Queen’s Colleges were established at Galway, Cork and Belfast in the middle of the 19th century. The Catholic University was founded in Dublin in 1854 (and renamed University College Dublin) a few years later. St. Patrick’s College Maynooth was recognised at university level in 1910, while the in the 1960s, the University of Ulster (UU) was founded in Coleraine. The University of Limerick (UL) and Dublin City University (DCU) were established from the former National Institutes of Higher Education Institutes during the 1980s.

The system was reorganised in 1997. UCD, UCC, NUIM, and NUIG now all come under the umbrella of the National University of Ireland (NUI). Other institutions are also officially recognised as colleges of the NUI – the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), the National College of Art and Design (NCAD), St Angela’s College of Education, the Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy, the Shannon College of Hotel Management and the Institute of Public Administration (IPA). This recognition means that degrees granted by these colleges are equal to those granted by universities. Students have kept away from universities at different times during our history, often due to barriers such as religion, politics, and social class. In 21st Century Ireland, however, entrance to Irish universities is open to people from all areas of the country, and from all backgrounds and faiths. The Central Applications Office (CAO) manages entry to undergraduate courses at Irish universities.

Teaching at the undergraduate level normally consists of a mixture of lectures and tutorials or seminars. Depending on the subject the curriculum could include practical demonstrations and laboratory work. Irish universities are financed by a mixture of state and private funding and Irish or EU undergraduate students do not have to pay tuition fees. Irish universities are self-governing and largely independent. They interact with their local and national communities and have many links with businesses, social groups and other educational institutions both in Ireland and abroad. Irish universities have the responsibility to award their own degrees, and use external examiners to ensure the consistency of standards.

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) oversees Irish universities on behalf of the Department of Education. As a large percentage of university funding comes from the Irish government, the Minister for Education is an important figure for Irish universities. A university degree is highly valued by many students, teachers, parents, and employers. This leads many Irish students to apply to a university when looking to take a third level education course.


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Whichcollege.ie is a national database of universities, colleges, institutes and providers of third level and PLC courses in Ireland. We operate a national search database of courses at certificate, diploma and degree level as well as providing information about career paths and directions.
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