CAO countdown: Study options abound home and abroad

Growing number of students take up offers of European courses taught through English

Over the coming months more than 80,000 students will attempt to navigate through a maze of subject choices, college advertising and parental expectations to select a course which will set them on a path towards a future career.

The opportunities available to learners – be they school-leavers, further education or undergraduate students, or adults of any age considering returning to study – have changed dramatically.

If you are interested in getting a place in an Irish university, institute of technology, teacher-training college or private college, offered through the CAO application process, the first step is to register immediately. Head to the CAO website to avail of a discounted €25 fee (the fee increases after January 20th) and ahead of the normal closing date for applications on February 1st.

But remember there is an ever-growing array of options both at home, abroad and online.


Part of the changing educational landscape is being shaped by the standardisation and regulation of qualifications both within Ireland and between countries. Increased fee levels in the UK and low birth rates among our EU continental partners are also driving opportunities outside Ireland.

Technological advances, too, are opening up new online resources which are transforming opportunities for many. Galway-based, which has more than 10 million learners worldwide, is one example.

A key driver of educational change in Ireland has been the development of the National Qualifications Framework. The capacity to have one's qualification accepted by all educational providers – domestically and internationally – has opened up progression opportunities across the entire education system for all learners.

Study in Europe

The number of Irish students opting to study in Europe on programmes taught through English is growing rapidly due to the often cheaper fees and easier entry routes which do not rely on CAO points. This week, for example, representatives of Dutch universities, many ranking in the top 100 worldwide, are travelling to careers events across Ireland to recruit students. They will be in Castleknock in Dublin this evening (Wednesday), and Sligo tomorrow (Thursday). Attendance is free but booking is required on

Conversely, growing tuition fees in England may reduce the flow of Irish students heading across the water. While the introduction of a £9,000 (€10,360) annual fee in 2011 for all university programmes in England reduced substantially the numbers of Irish students accepting places, it did not reduce the numbers seeking places in nursing and paramedical degree programmes. This is because the National Health Service (NHS) continued to fund the fee costs of these programmes. However, NHS funding for new entrants ceased in 2016.

The expected roll-out of Brexit over the next two years may bring further changes for Irish citizens to this rapidly-changing educational landscape.

Before making any educational decisions in the coming weeks and months, whether it is to seek a course in the college down the road or one further afield , research your options fully.

This column, which will run over the next fortnight, aims to help set you on the right path.

*Tomorrow: research key to picking up suitable courses