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Ireland - Higher Education

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceIreland - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education

HIGHER EDUCATION

University, non-university, and private colleges provide higher education in Ireland. The number of applicants for places in third-level colleges outnumbers openings for students, and the dropout rate of first-year students is a national concern, causing critics to question the quality of the nation's secondary schools. Perhaps the most important occurrence in the behind-the-scenes running of Ireland's colleges was the establishment of a Higher Education Authority. This advisory board was an important adjunct to the minister for education, making recommendations on fiscal matters and on ways to upgrade colleges and universities. The Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education work in cooperative fashion. Higher Education in Ireland takes the form of universities, technology institutes, and colleges for teacher education. Additional institutions provide specialized training in art, design, medicine, theology, music, and law.

Since the 1960s, industry in Ireland has reported a shortage in skilled workers, particularly, after 1995, those with sophisticated computer skills. Since universities were unable or unwilling to address these needs, the government of Ireland set up the National Institute for Higher Education (NIHE) to upgrade and start technical colleges graded as third-level educational institutions.

Higher education in Ireland has changed considerably throughout the past two decades. The number of students enrolled has increased markedly with the establishment of teaching institutions with a technology emphasis such as the Regional Technical Colleges (RTCs). Most institutions of higher education are state-supported, meaning they receive more than 90 percent of their income from the State. Since 1975, additional universities in Limerick and Dublin were opened, and the Institutes of Technology were expanded to take more enrollees. Disciplines gaining favor from students since 1965 are in the arts, social sciences, technology, and business. Also since 1965, Ireland's universities have experienced a significant jump in enrollment from 21,000 in 1965 to nearly 97,000 in 1997.

Since the passing of the Irish Universities Act in 1997, eight universities operate in Ireland. These are the University Colleges at Dublin, Cork, and Galway; the National University of Ireland (NUI); the University of Dublin (Trinity College); Dublin City University; University of Limerick; and Maynooth University. Each of these colleges offers courses as varied as social science, the arts, Celtic studies, law, medicine, dairy science, veterinary studies, architecture, and agriculture. In addition, there are a number of designated third-level institutions that interact with the Higher Education Authority. These are the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, The Royal Irish Academy, the National College of Art and Design, and The National Council for Educational Awards.

In Ireland there also is a higher education unit called non-universities, and in 2000 there were 14 of them located throughout the country, including Tallaght and R.T.C. Co. Dublin, which opened in September of 1992. They provide higher technical and technological education.

In 1995, the government published a document called "Charting our Education Future" that said the nation was striving "to ensure the highest standards of quality in all fields, in order to provide students with the best possible education." The government's "White Paper," as the report was called, said, "the restructured Higher Education Authority will be responsible for monitoring and evaluating the quality audit systems within individual institutions. The system will be based on cyclical evaluation of departments and faculties by national and international peers preceded by an internal evaluation; arrangements for the implementation and monitoring of evaluation findings; and the development of appropriate performance indicators."

The Department of Education, university presidents, and the Higher Education Authority developed performance indicators for higher education institutions and their faculties that assess all activities, particularly teaching and research.


Admission Procedures: Admission procedures for universities and colleges of higher education set their own minimum entrance requirements. The office that acts as a coordinator for applications is the Central Applications Office. Scores on the school leaving-certificate examination are used to reserve places for students on a point system.

Applicants may be admitted to an Irish university if they have earned a Leaving Certificate or diploma that signifies the successful completion of 13 years of schooling with a minimum overall average. (Prior to 1999, a student had to show evidence of passing the Matriculation Examination of the National University of Ireland; the exam was phased out in 1992). Most higher education institutions use the Central Applications Office in Galway to screen applications. The Central Applications Office was established in 1976.


Enrollment: According to the Central Statistics Office, in the decade between 1988 and 1998, the number of Republic of Ireland students enrolled in full-time or part-time undergraduate courses increased by 72 percent. Over the same period, postgraduate students more than doubled. Of the 89,500 students in higher education in 1994, approximately 52,000 attended at the university level.


Professional Education: An institute of higher education offering training in medicine began in Dublin during the seventeenth century, but it was run haphazardly until 1711 when a medical school opened at Trinity College, Dublin. Even then, very few doctors chose to earn their degrees here. Most preferred to study medicine at established, prestigious schools in Great Britain or other European countries. In the earliest days of medicine, surgeons were associates of barbers and belonged to the Barbers Surgeons Guild. In time, a Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) was established in 1654. Next, Charles II chartered a Fraternity of Physicians in 1667.

In 1713, a Dublin physician named Sir Patrick Dunn died and bequeathed a chair of medicine to Trinity College. Even by 1747, the number grew only to two additional distinguished professor chairs. In 1785 the school began a College of Surgeons. In 1816, the school was connected with a hospital and offered clinical studies, ensuring its reputation. Cadavers, as was the custom of the day as recalled in literature by Charles Dickens and Ambrose Bierce, were stolen from cemeteries in the night by grave robbers.

The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) was established in 1784 and now is associated with NUI. Ireland's most prestigious medical school, it is housed in an early nineteenth century building on St. Stephen's Green in Dublin. The renovated building contains state-of-the-art computer laboratories; modern lecture, theatre, and seminar rooms; and laboratories.

During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, other prominent physicians expanded their practices by opening medical schools. A number of physicians in other cities also began to run them, but these failed to out-live the men who started them. In 1855, Catholic University also operated a hospital that eventually was taken over by University College, Dublin.

Members of the legal profession practiced law well before the twelfth century in Ireland. Formal schooling was required of attorneys during the sixteenth century. Prospective attorneys by 1628 were required to study at the Inns of Court in London, a professional school that, at the time, had been in existence for two centuries, for the required five years.

Catholics were prevented from becoming attorneys by means of a loyalty oath to the Church of Ireland that they were unable to take, lest their own Church excommunicate them. Lawyers who successfully passed the London Inns of Court and took the oath were admitted to the professional company of judges and lawyers in a society named the King's Inn (after the building that for a long time housed the society). Today, tradition continues as the Honorable Society of King's Inns and the Incorporated Law Society provide academic preparation in law for prospective attorneys to qualify respectively for barrister-at-law and for solicitor.


Vocational Colleges: By way of example, students seeking a career in tourism find an internationally acclaimed institute in the Shannon College of Hotel Management. It was founded in 1951 by educator Brendan O'Regan, as a source of trained managers for the Irish hotel trade. Shannon College is a hands-on college that uses internships to enable students to acquire on-site hotel experience to complement management training. Those earning the diploma in International Hotel Management are expected to demonstrate business skills, managerial skills, and fluency in one or more foreign languages. The National Council recognizes the school's diploma for Educational Awards, the National University of Ireland, and several prestigious industry associations such as The International Hotel Association.


Religious Institutions: Chief among religious institutions is the National University of Ireland (NUI), established in 1908. NUI is actually made up of three colleges: University College, Galway; University College, Cork; and University College, Dublin. The Royal College of Surgeons and St. Patrick's College, a training school for future priests, also are associated with NUI.


Private Colleges: In Ireland there are a small number of private colleges providing third level and professional education. By way of example, four of the major institutions are:

  1. The National College of Ireland (NCI) located in Dublin is an independent institution specializing in industrial relations, management, and related areas; it offers a National Diploma in Personnel Management (4-year evening course) and a B.A. in Industrial Relations (5-year evening course) conferred by the NCEA.
  2. The Shannon International Hotel School offers a four-year Diploma in Hotel Management. The final year includes a management internship in the United Kingdom or United States.
  3. The National College of Art and Design (NCAD) offers sub-degree, primary degree, and graduate programs in its specialty areas.
  4. The American College offers degrees and diplomas in the humanities, business, international law, and psychology. Validation is from a university in the United States.

Degrees Offered: A bachelor degree is obtained after a three- or four-year full-time course or comparable period of part-time study. This degree is usually pursued in a particular subject or field of study. The Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) program requires three or four years' study, while Bachelor degrees in Medicine and Dentistry require six years of study.


Postgraduate Training: A Graduate Higher Diploma is generally obtained after one or two years of postgraduate study. A research thesis is generally required. A Master's degree requires course work, a research project, and examination in a specific field of study. The normal duration of study is from one to three years following the Bachelor degree.

The Doctorate is the highest academic qualification awarded in Ireland. The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD.) Degree, Doctor in Letters (D.Litt.), Doctor in Science (D.Sc.), and some others may be obtained only by research and are, in general, completed in one to three years after the Master's Degree.


National & Government Educational Agencies: Higher education in Ireland is managed only at the national level and not administered by regional agencies in Ireland. The government has entrusted its Department of Education to oversee and administer the country's system of higher education—known as the third level. The vocational schools, also known as technical institutes, get operating funds from the Department of Education; however, the Universities and some colleges of education apply for funding from the Higher Education Authority (HEA). Other third level institutions provide specialist education in areas such as the arts or the professions and business, but these, too, get the bulk of budgetary funding through the state.

The state has reacted to strong criticisms of its higher education facilities by taking a far-reaching role in educational matters. Most conspicuously, it founded the HEA in 1969 to keep a master plan for such institutions, as well as to possess budgetary powers. In addition, an agency was formed to monitor standards and curriculum matters in 1972. The National Council for Educational Awards (NCEA) oversees both undergraduate and graduate school matters under its jurisdiction. Another bureaucratic addition came about in 1976 to take over certain administrative duties such as processing applications from persons applying for courses at the universities, some specialty colleges, and a number of private colleges as well. This agency is called the Central Applications Office (CAO).

Expenditures: Public moneys appropriated for pre-school, primary, and secondary schools fall short of those spent by many comparable European nations, but Ireland's spending on higher education compares favorably with rival countries, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In 1993, the Republic of Ireland spent 1.7 billion pounds (US$2.6 billion) on education. Areas where the Republic of Ireland falls relatively low in preschool, primary, and secondary education were pointed out by a study issued by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 1995 (though based on 1992 figures). The OECD finds Ireland deficient compared to other European countries in per-pupil expenditures at the preschool, primary, and secondary levels.


The Department of Education: The Department of Education administers public education, including primary, postprimary and special education. State subsidies for universities and third level colleges are given out through the Department. The three main levels of the education system are first, second, and third levels. The first and second level is referred to generally as primary and post-primary, respectively. The mission statement of the Department of Education says its purpose is "to ensure the provision of a comprehensive, cost-effective, and accessible education system of the highest quality, as measured by international standards, which will enable individuals to develop to their full potential as persons, and to participate fully as citizens in society, and contribute to social and economic development."


Nonformal Education: Teachers in Ireland frequently find teaching aids and sources from 1 of 30 part-time and full-time Education Centers in the country. These centers offer various support services and resources to teachers and to other partners in education. Two of the best known are the Blackrock Educational Center and Dublin West Education Center. These centers also keep an online presence with information on how to access contact persons and information.

In 2000 and 2001, many Irish children participated in a multi-center project called Write-a-Book. Meant to be a celebration of writing and artistic abilities by Ireland's children, not a contest, the student authors chronicle their lives, cultures, and homelands. Each participant receives a certificate. A few outstanding books are selected upon merit, and an Irish television star or media personality presents awards to the children.


Continuing Education: Students who do not enter a university or technical college but wish postsecondary school training frequently elect to take additional course-work in vocational schools. More than 30,000 part-time students were enrolled in vocational, community, and comprehensive schools in 1994-1995. More than 300 courses are open to such students.

Vocational schools, as have other Irish higher education institutions, improved much in the 1990s. With industry jobs going begging in the late 1990s, many additional students found new institutions such as the Regional Technical Colleges (RTCs) a good fit for their needs. In 1996 the Minister of Education unfolded plans to also allow the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) to offer degree-granting programs for professional and managerial students.


Distance Education: Taking courses via the Internet, television, video, and radio—distance education—can be taken in addition to regular university courses or in place of university courses. Distance learning is equal to the amount of work performed in a regular classroom, but it is done at a time and place chosen by the student. No formal entry requirements are required for applicants aged 23 and older, making distance learning particularly attractive to adults and students getting a second chance at a college degree after dropping out earlier in life. Students also have the option of taking courses through the established Open University and the developing Irish National Distance Education Center (NDEC) headquartered at Dublin City University.

For students willing to give up the benefits of classroom instruction and close face-to-face interaction with professors and their fellow students, distance education is an option worth taking to earn a B.S. or B.A. degree that could not be obtained by traditional means. Course offerings include selections from literature, philosophy, history, psychology, and sociology. Another option is a BSc degree in information technology. Students choose from a course menu including management science, computing, and communications technology.


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