Qualifications available from Universities

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While the decision of which subject to do at college or university is a very important one, there is also the choice of qualification level to consider. The Irish education system is divided into a number of levels within the structure of the National Framework of Qualifications.

The National Framework of Qualifications was introduced in October 2003 to streamline the Irish education system. The Framework is intended to encompass all education and training awards in Ireland, providing recognition for learning achievements at all levels. The Framework also organises all courses into an easy to understand ladder system.

Within the Irish third level system, the courses available are higher certificates; ordinary bachelor degrees (formerly known as national diplomas), and honours bachelor degrees. These qualifications fit in at levels six, seven, and eight respectively in the National Framework of Qualifications.

Practically all of the courses available at Irish universities are honours bachelor degree programmes. These are the highest level undergraduate programmes available in the Irish educational system. Higher certificates and ordinary bachelor degrees are rarely offered by universities, these courses are generally available at Institutes of Technology, Colleges of Education, State Sponsored Colleges, Further Education or PLCs and Independent Colleges.

Honours degree programmes are available in a wide range of subjects. These are more likely to be academically minded subjects, rather than practical or vocational. Irish universities still concentrate to an extent on traditional academic subject areas such as the arts, natural sciences, engineering, medicine, law and languages. In recent years, Irish universities have introduced courses in a growing number of business and IT disciplines, as well as in subjects such as communications studies and European studies.

The CAO points required for honours bachelor degrees are generally higher than those required for ordinary degree or higher certificate courses. The relatively high points required for honours bachelor degrees at Irish universities reflects the high academic standards, as well as the high levels of competition and interest in honours degrees. Rightly or wrongly, university degrees are still most valued by many students, teachers, parents and employers.

Honours bachelor degrees generally take three or four years to complete at Irish universities, although some subjects such as architecture and medicine take longer.

Honours bachelor degrees are generally required if a student wants to move on to postgraduate level. Sometimes a student who has completed a course at level six or seven in the National Qualifications Framework will have to complete a level eight course before moving on to postgraduate study or research.


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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