Other options: Studying for a master’s in Europe

Cost and access are big draws for students opting to study in European colleges

People pursue master’s degrees for a variety of reasons, such as to progress further in a chosen career path, to hold an additional qualification in that area (which could lead to higher remuneration when joining/rejoining the workforce), to expand their knowledge or even to change career paths entirely. For any of these reasons and more, master’s degrees can be very worthy pursuits. According to an OECD report, in 2018 12 per cent of Irish people had achieved a master’s degree or equivalent, while the probability of an Irish person entering a master’s programme during their lifetime is an impressive 25 per cent, several points above the OECD average of 19 per cent.

However, not all Irish people studying master's degrees do so in Ireland, with many people opting to study abroad instead. This could be due to a number of reasons, such as the high cost of tuition in Ireland, the high cost of living, the variety of courses on offer and the desire to live in another country and experience another culture.

In Ireland, master's degrees for Irish and European Union/EEA students vary in price from between €4,500 and €12,000. Studying in the UK or United States can be incredibly expensive for Irish students who have not received funding to continue their studies. However, studying within the EU can be very cost effective, for a highly respected and regarded degree.

For Andrew Cotter, who is studying a master's degree in political science at Vrije University in Amsterdam, an equivalent degree would have cost him about €10,000 in Ireland, while in Amsterdam it costs roughly a quarter of that.


Michael Bruun Nielsen opted to study an MA in ecology and conservation at Uppsala University in Sweden, where there are no tuition fees whatsoever for EU/EEA students.


Fi Carroll – a recent fashion design graduate of NCAD – is considering a master’s in fashion design with textiles. With very few options in Ireland, they had always hoped to study in the UK; however, they are now considering studying in Scandinavia.

"For me, the fees elsewhere in Europe are a massive draw. In Sweden it's completely free to study there as an EU citizen, so naturally that's a big draw compared to Ireland."

In Denmark, international students can receive a government grant if they have a part-time job, for their contribution to the Danish economy in addition to their wages. This is also a major pull factor for Carroll.

The appeal of living abroad itself was a factor in pursuing a master’s in Uppsala, for Bruun Nielsen, but it was also an opportunity to move out from the family home, something he did not feel would otherwise be possible in Ireland.

“I knew I wanted to move abroad, mainly because I knew I couldn’t move out in Ireland even if I got a job, so it was more about moving out than anything.”

Cotter was similarly motivated, citing his main reason for doing a master’s abroad was “to just live abroad, or just move out in general, but moving out in Ireland wasn’t really an option”.

Carroll similarly feels “in general the idea of experiencing studying and living in another country is exciting”, and that this will push them to study abroad when the time comes.

While Bruun Nielsen was considering where to pursue a master’s, Covid-19 and the level of restrictions in each country were a major factor. There were a handful of similar courses elsewhere throughout Europe; however, Sweden had the lowest level of restrictions. “I thought it would have been hard to actually integrate yourself in somewhere that was very restricted, like Ireland was and like a lot of other countries were, so Sweden, I could move here and I could sort of get involved in things, I could meet people.”

Bruun Nielsen began his degree online from Sweden at the end of August, and by the beginning of October was attending lectures in person. Since then there has been one two-week period of restrictions, where nightclubs closed, other venues had capacity regulations and lectures were moved online in February. However, outside of these occasions restrictions have remained very mild.

Restrictions in the Netherlands have been stricter for Cotter. With the rise of Omicron last November-December, all of his lectures were moved online, and Cotter opted to come home.


For Carroll, the limitations and monotony of lockdown in Ireland have also encouraged them even more to look abroad when choosing where to study. “Not being able to travel for quite a long time and working and studying from home has definitely made me crave a bit of adventure and the chance to experience something other than Dublin.”

When tuition fees are so much lower abroad than they are in Ireland, other expenses such as accommodation and cost of living must be considered when choosing to study abroad.

In Uppsala, Bruun Nielsen has found his accommodation to be much more affordable than any equivalent in Dublin. “The accommodation is way, way cheaper than Dublin. Sweden also has quite a lot of tenants’ rights, so you have to have a minimum standard of living to rent out somewhere, so the place you’re getting is gonna have to be at a minimum standard.”

Otherwise, the cost of living in Sweden differs from Ireland in a lot of ways. Social infrastructure such as public transport and healthcare are heavily subsidised, while day-to-day expenses are quite high. “It’s mainly just social things and buying food that is the expensive part. Healthcare is really affordable, and there are loads of caps on how much you’re allowed to spend on medical services, so I guess in the long run, it actually all balances out.”

Bruun Nielsen also found there to be a big difference between Irish people and Swedish people socially. “The biggest culture shock is definitely the people, and how you get to know people is a lot different, it’s less immediate – you’re gonna have to put in the groundwork first, but then once you get to know them, they’re great.”

“I thought they’d be a lot less friendly than they are, they are still friendly.”

Finding accommodation in Amsterdam proved difficult for Cotter. The university’s student accommodation was all booked out when he moved to the Netherlands last year, and he spent the first month of his course living in a hostel. He then returned to Ireland for a month, and it was only upon his return, when he told the university that if he could not find somewhere to live he did not know if he’d be able to continue with his course, that he was finally offered emergency student accommodation by the university.

Cotter now lives in a studio apartment close to the city centre. “I think for what I have and the location, it’s a good price in that sense. I wouldn’t be getting anything like that in Ireland anyway.”