‘Low tuition fees, transport is free’: Mastering further education abroad

An increasing number of Irish students are opting to apply to colleges abroad

Ireland has long been renowned for its high standard of education – and figures revealed in 2022 show it ranks third in OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries for its rate of third-level education attainment, at 54 per cent compared to the average of 41 per cent.

In addition to this, more than 14 per cent of the Irish population has a master’s degree and with almost 150 courses to choose from in 2024, there is a wealth of opportunity available to those wishing to further their education and career prospects.

But an increasing number of Irish students are also opting to apply to colleges abroad, as, along with the experience of living in a foreign country, many find that the fees (or lack of in some cases) and the course content is preferable to what is available in their chosen field at home.

Jack Cook is currently enrolled in a research programme in Luxembourg and says it differs structurally to other master’s programmes as the aim is to build a career in academia. But with just 12 students, class sizes are smaller, and alongside professors, the students take turns to give the class and there is more of an emphasis on tutorials rather than lectures.


“Another great aspect of the master’s programmes at the University of Luxembourg is the ability to structure the class as you please,” he says. “You must get 120 credits to graduate but it is up to you how you choose to do this. Each class entails five credits but you can decide to do as many or as few as you like each semester – so, for example, I chose to do eight classes in the first semester, so it will be easier for me later on.

“We can also get credits from other subjects relating to our faculty, which allows much more freedom to study what you want and decide when you want to take classes. Compared to people I have talked to in similar courses in Ireland, there appears to be a much greater ability to customise course content to your liking, which I believe greatly helps in finding the specific research you want to do for your thesis and general research field if you choose to pursue an academic career.”

However, although the content and course layout is more ‘user friendly’, in general, the workload seems to be heavier than the Irish equivalent.

“Each class assigns a significant amount of reading and if you are taking multiple classes it becomes a real challenge,” says the 25-year-old. “This was a real hurdle for me initially but while some can get away with leaving most of the reading until the exam period, when that time arrived, I was thankful that I stayed on top of it. So, I think that once you get used to it this format, it’s more effective – and also means that the exam season isn’t as stressful.

“The grading system is also quite different to Ireland and is closely linked to the French equivalent (graded from 0-20) – but I’ve found that if you follow the coursework, achieving a grade of 14-16 is relatively straightforward - however the higher 17-19 grades are challenging to achieve and a 20 is pretty much unheard of.”

The second year philosophy student says that just like in Ireland, ‘finding available accommodation is a major struggle’ for students in Luxembourg - however, when you do find somewhere suitable to stay, the cost is much more affordable than at home, with the average price for students renting a room in college accommodation around €450 per month.

He says private off-campus accommodation can be double that figure and many students look to nearby cities in neighbouring countries such as Metz in France or Trier in Germany.

“Another positive is that transport is free in Luxembourg and there are no tuition costs other than a €200 registration fee each semester,” he says. “This is a great bonus as it offsets the cost of rent and if you get accommodation with the university or in a neighbouring city it can become a very cost-effective study experience, compared to the combined cost of tuition and rent in Dublin.”

Indeed, as the tuition fees for a master’s in Ireland ranges between €9,500 and €30,000, undertaking the course abroad seems like a very attractive alternative.

Eoin O’Brien is halfway through a one-year master’s degree in the Netherlands and says it was a fraction of what it would have cost in Ireland.

“My master’s here was €2,120 for everything – including opportunities for a paid internship and student assistant programmes – the equivalent in Ireland was at least €10,000,” he says.

“But accommodation seems to be similar to Ireland with extremely high demand and low availability, leaving a lot of freedom for landlords to charge higher rent. I have heard stories of people having to stay in tents on campus due to the lack of availability, which, after doing my bachelors in Galway, is familiar. The lowest price I have seen for accommodation was €40 per month but the majority seems to be between €550 and €750.”

According to the 23-year-old, the exam structure is also different to the Irish equivalent.

“So far we have had only two sit-down exams and one of these was open book, something I didn’t experience in Ireland,” he says. “This, made the learning process more about understanding information rather than just retaining it. Other than this, assessment has been far more based on group projects and designing seminars, which we have been doing once a month.

“Again, this emphasis is on applying learned information to real-life cases rather than just retaining it for a period of time. There is also huge emphasis on the technological aspects of our study domains – so, for instance, in my course on neuropsychology we have designed internet interventions, created VR rehab treatments and designed video presentations of cases.

“This appears to be the norm here as my friends doing master’s degrees in other subjects such as law, report very similar methods of delivering information – so it seems to be in line with the technologically progressive philosophy of the Netherlands in general.”

Jack Cook says although exams function much the same way in Luxembourg as they do in Ireland, he and his colleagues are also graded by continuous assessment.

“Ten per cent of the grade is awarded for class participation, 25 per cent for facilitation (as in the class that you teach) and 65 per cent for the final term paper,” he says. “This took me a while to get used to because in Ireland we are usually graded mostly on our final exam, while here if you don’t participate or show up for class, it will affect your grade quite significantly.

“Overall, I think that if it wasn’t for the high cost of living in Luxembourg, compared to what it was when I lived in Dubin, it would be a very popular place to study. But, thankfully, to offset this, the university offers five student canteens with great variety at a very good price.”

According to Guy Flouch of Eunicas, the European Universities Central Application Support Service, there are currently around 1,400 students from Ireland doing a master’s degree in Europe and many are enticed, not just because of the cost and course content, but also due to the lifestyle and overall experience.

“With many courses free or with very low fees, in some of best universities in Europe, Irish students have opportunities to access postgraduate opportunities that they couldn’t access at home,” he says. “And in an increasingly globalised employment market, they will acquire cross-cultural skills, as well as experiences and perspectives which will be attractive to a wide range of employers at home and abroad. Aside from that, students will also make memories for life.”

For more information on studying abroad visit www.eunicas.ie

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Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in health, lifestyle, parenting, travel and human interest stories