Number of students from Republic studying in North ‘triples’, with many citing cheaper accommodation

First-year students guaranteed campus accommodation in some universities, while also being eligible for student loans

The number of students from the Republic of Ireland opting to study in Northern Ireland has almost tripled since 2019, with the cost of living playing a significant factor.

Queen’s University Belfast recorded an increase from 99 new first-year students to 281 between 2019 and 2022. Ulster University said its intake from south of the Border increased from 265 in 2019 to 555 last year across its four campuses: Magee, Coleraine, Jordanstown and Belfast.

St Mary’s University College in Belfast had just four first-year students from the Republic in 2019, but this rose to 15 in 2022.

Many students cite cost of living and accommodation concerns for their decision to head north. According to the Residential Tenancies Board, the average rent for a new tenancy in Dublin was €2,022 and €1,164 outside of Dublin last year.


According to, a two-bedroom apartment in Dublin can range anywhere from €1,800 in Park West to €3,000 on Leeson Street. In Galway, the equivalent is €2,200 in Salthill.

In Cork, a two-bedroom apartment is priced at €1,250 per month in Mitchelstown. According to, a two-bedroom apartment in Belfast is €930 per month on Grove Street, €877 on Shore Road and €1,286 on Alfred Street.

Áine McLaughlin, who is from Termon in Co Donegal, attends Queen’s University and studies business management. She said the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) was fairer than the points system in the Republic.

“Everything is taken into account. They get more background on you than just being a statistic; it’s a very good, fair system,” she said.

McLaughlin had been accepted to study at Queen’s in May on a conditional offer, meaning she had to achieve specific grades to obtain her place at university. She said this was fairer than the CAO points race as “you are not guaranteed the points, as they change so often”.

Queen’s also provides guaranteed campus accommodation for every first-year student from the Republic, because they are considered international students.

“Definitely the guaranteed accommodation pushed me more towards the North,” she said.

“I loved the city [Belfast] but factors like accommodation and the student loan definitely influenced me more”, she says. “I am so grateful I chose where I went.”

Patrick Gallagher, who is from Fanad in Co Donegal, also attends Queen’s University and studies international business with French.

Initially, Gallagher was considering studying commerce in Galway but opted for the same course in Queen’s because of the option of a year abroad or work experience. He knew Dublin “was not on the cards” for him as the points for his chosen course were too high.

After visiting Queen’s on the open day, he went into sixth year with it “first on his mind”. The guarantee of campus accommodation was another pull factor for Gallagher, who said “there was literally no stress for accommodation in Belfast”.

Campus accommodation at Elms Village in Belfast is priced at €6,070 (£5,200) for a single en suite room with utility costs included. For a similar single bed with en suite room, without utility costs included, it would cost €9,600 in UCD’s Ashfield, €6,403 in DCU’s Hampstead, €6,525 in UG’s Goldcrest and €5,883 in UCC’s Victoria Lodge.

The UK also supplies a student loan system which Republic of Ireland students are eligible to apply for. It allows any student to take out a loan to pay for their tuition fees which they can pay back once they have finished university and are earning more than £22,015 (€25,672). This system is not means tested unlike the Republic’s grant system, Susi (Student Universal Support Ireland).

Ella McGlynn, who is from Kilmacrenan in Co Donegal, and Nicole Sweeney, who is from Annaghdown in Co Galway, study occupational therapy at Ulster University’s Magee Campus in Derry.

McGlynn found out she had been accepted to the course in Magee in May following her UCAS application and a healthcare specific interview. Knowing of her acceptance to the course before she sat her Leaving Certificate exams made it “more achievable when aiming for grades, as you had more of an incentive to care”, she said.

Before her acceptance from Ulster University, McGlynn had been set on studying occupational therapy in Galway, but as the time got closer, she knew it wasn’t for her.

“It seemed unrealistic that I would get the points for Galway and getting accommodation just seemed too hard, Derry seemed more achievable,” she said. “If I stayed at home, I could keep my job, my car and my fees were paid.”

Many healthcare courses in the UK are offered to students with either free or reduced tuition fees paid by the department of health. In many regions students are expected to work for a certain number of years within the NHS to make up for the payment of their fees. The occupational therapy students at Ulster University can work with the NHS for one year on paid placement but unlike other parts of the UK, it is not compulsory for students in healthcare courses in Northern Ireland to work for the NHS.

After being torn between Derry and Galway, McGlynn is “really happy” with her decision and does not feel that she is missing out on the college experience while living at home.

Sweeney saw the advantages of attending college in Northern Ireland, despite being one of the first to attend in her school.

When she spoke to her guidance counsellor about studying occupational therapy, only Galway, Dublin and Cork were mentioned. But she knew she could not afford Dublin; she did not get student accommodation in Cork and the points seemed too high for Galway.

“A girl from football told me about UCAS, I didn’t even know what it meant,” she said. “I had to look into it myself.”

Sweeney had no issue finding student accommodation, describing it as a “great way to make friends” and already has a student house organised for September, while her fees are paid for by the UK’s department of health.