Third level Education

Higher Education

Higher education comprises of all those courses run by
  • universities,
  • institutes of technology,
  • and colleges of education,
which are substantially funded by the State.
  • In addition it includes courses at a number of private third level colleges in the State.

Access to higher education for students progressing from post primary education is based on the Leaving Certificate, which is the examination completed at the end of second level school.

The Central Applications Office (CAO) is the national organisation which allocates places to higher education institutions. You apply for a place to the CAO by submitting an application form to them by 1st February each year (this date may be subject to change). More information can be found on their website at

There are other routes of entry for certain categories of students, for example mature students and those wishing to attend institutions not using the CAO application facility. Intending students should contact their institution of choice to confirm the exact application process in such cases.

Some courses may have specific subject entry requirements, and intending students should check the CAO website, or contact their institution of choice, to confirm the exact requirements of the course they wish to undertake.

The Higher Education Authority has established the National Office for Equity of Access to Higher Education to increase participation in higher education amongst specific groups. It targets promotional campaigns at under-represented groups including among others:
  • the Traveller community,
  • immigrants,
  • and adults with few or no educational qualifications.

Further Education

Further education refers to courses undertaken after post- primary level, and not in higher education colleges/universities/ institutes of technology. It encompasses a wide range of courses, from adult literacy to personal interest evening classes, to post- leaving certificate courses.

State funded programmes at this level are now being quality assured by the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC). Accreditation in further education courses is available at levels 1-6 on the National Framework of Qualifications.

A guidance service aimed at participants in certain adult education programmes is available free of charge in most areas throughout Ireland. The measure, which is called the Adult Education Guidance Initiative, is designed to support access to Adult Literacy, the Back to Education Initiative, the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme and community education programmes in the Further Education Sector. All adult learners involved in these programmes can access the Initiative

Third Level Fees

Free fees:
Under the terms of the Free Fees Initiative (FFI), the Exchequer meets the tuition fees of eligible students who are pursuing full-time undergraduate courses of study. The main conditions are that students must :
  • Be first-time undergraduates; and
  • Hold E.U. nationality and
  • Have been ordinarily resident in an E.U. Member State for at least three of the five years preceding their entry to an approved third level course.

The Free Fees Initiative also extends to
  • persons with official refugee status in the State,
  • their family members who have permission to reside in the State from the Department of Justice,
  • ‘permitted’ and ‘qualifying’ family members of EU nationals who have permission to reside in Ireland from the Department of Justice under SI 656/2006
who meet all the criteria above, apart from nationality.

  • Similarly EEA/Swiss students who meet the residency requirement are also entitled to free tuition fees.

The process for determining eligibility for free fees is undertaken by the third level institution to which the student wishes to attend.

There is a distinction between the criteria which determine eligibility under the Free Fees Initiative, and the criteria by which individual third level institutions establish the rate of tuition fee to be charged, in cases where a student does not qualify for free fees. The third level institutions are autonomous bodies and, as such, may determine the level of fees to be charged in any case where the Free Fees Initiative does not apply.

Section 473A, of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997, provides tax relief, at the standard rate of tax, for tuition fees paid in respect of approved courses at approved colleges of higher education including certain approved undergraduate and postgraduate courses in E.U. Member States and in non EU countries.

EU fees: If you are an EU citizen or have official refugee status and you have received all your post-primary education in the EU but have not been resident in an EU state for 3 of the last 5 years before beginning third-level education you may qualify for EU fees. The institution you apply to, as an autonomous body, will decide on the rate of fee being charged and it can set its own requirements.

Alternatively, if you are not an EU citizen but you have been residing in an EU Member State prior to entering third-level you may be eligible to pay the EU rate of fee. It will be the institution, as an autonomous body, which will decide on the rate of fee being charged and the requirements for that rate.

Students may be also eligible for the Higher Education Grants Scheme or other assistance. Students may also be eligible for assistance under the student grant schemes.

Non-EU fees: If you are applying for a place at third level as an overseas student, you will be charged full tuition fees and you will not be eligible for a maintenance grant.

Grants to students on Further and Higher Education courses

Single Awarding Authority for all New Grant Applications for the 2012/2013 Academic Year

Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) is the new single awarding authority for all new grant applications for further and higher education in the 2012/13 academic year.

If you are a new student or changing course and wish to apply for a grant you should apply to the “online application system” which can be accessed at

The website also has useful and easy to understand information on application criteria, residency requirements, nationality and related status as well as reckonable income limits.

Student visas and permission to remain

Non-EEA students
(The following links are to the Citizen's Information website).

If you are travelling from a country that requires a visa to enter Ireland, you need to apply for a student visa. If you are not required to have a visa to enter Ireland, you do not need a student visa to study in Ireland but you should have your letter of offer of a place at the school, or educational institution and your other documentation ready for inspection at immigration.

All non-EEA national students must register with their local immigration officer to get permission to remain in Ireland. The website of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) has details of what evidence is required for the different types of course available.

EEA students
Students from the EU/EEA and Switzerland do not need a student visa nor do they require permission to remain in Ireland.


QualifaX is the Irish National Learners’ Database. It provides information on a wide range of courses across further and higher education and training. It includes a range of useful tools such as an events calendar. Interest assessment and information on student grants. QualifaX is now part of the Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI). The Qualifax website will continue to be available for business continuity purposes for some time.


SOLAS (An tSeirbhís Oideachais Leanúnaigh agus Scileanna) was formally established in 2013 as the Further Education and Training Authority in Ireland. It is responsible for funding, planning and co-ordinating the wide range of training and further education programmes in Ireland. Here is a link to the SOLAS website -

Education and Training Boards (ETBs) are responsible for the delivery of Further Education and Training programmes.

For further information please click on the links below: - Find a Course





Training centre contact details

Education and Training Boards (ETB) contact details

The Citizen's Information website also has information on different training options on its website.

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