Paying for a University Education can be expensive and overwhelming, but there are options, and not just bank loans and part-time jobs. There are many scholarships, grants, and bursaries available based on, among other things, where you live, clubs you’re a member of, your subject of study, and your own personal background.
Undergraduate tuition fees start at about €4100 upwards, with professional programmes such as law and medicine costing more. Most colleges have extra charges such as sports centre fees and an annual student services charge or registration fee, which covers student services and examinations. In September 2011 the Student Services Charge will be replaced by a flat-rate student contribution of €2,000 per year.
For postgraduate study, there is more variation among the different universities’ fees. Fees for research degrees average more than €4,000, while fees for taught degree programmes can be under €4,000 or as high as €10,000. The charge for an MBA (Masters of Business Administration) course can be as high as €25,000. The cost of tuition alone can be off putting, and there is also additional living costs, but try not to let this deter you. There are many funding opportunities for furthering your education offered by government agencies, the colleges themselves, and private organisations.
Some potential students may qualify to have their Undergraduate course fees covered by the state. In order to qualify for free fees the course must be full-time and of at least two years’ duration (or certain one year courses in an institute of technology). You can’t already hold an equivalent qualification and you can’t be repeating the year because of previously failing your exams. You must be an EU national, have immigrant status, or meet residency requirements. There is no separate application for the Free Fees Initiative, rather eligibility is assessed based on the information you give when applying for a college place. If you do not qualify for free fees, you may still qualify for full or partial payment of fees if you satisfy the conditions of the Higher Education Grants Scheme.
The Higher Education Authority (HEA) Grants Scheme and the Vocational Education Committees’ (VEC) Scholarship Scheme’ are two types of means-tested maintenance grants offered by the Irish government and administered through County Councils. Conditions for application can be found on the Department of Education and Skills website (www.education.ie). Official application forms are available from the local authority or www.studentfinance.ie. While the HEA Grants Scheme is intended for students starting courses, the VEC Scholarship Scheme is geared towards students who have completed two years of a Level 7 (Ordinary Bachelor Degree or National Diploma) course and so have gained admission into year two of a Level 8 (Honours Bachelor Degree) course.
In searching for funding, you’ll encounter the terms fellowship, scholarship, and bursaries. The terms are often used interchangeably. General scholarships and bursaries are offered and may be given to students who will attend school full time, have a minimum average grade of at least a B average, and who can demonstrate financial need, but there are many opportunities available to specific groups depending on what you’re studying, where you live, membership in banks or sports clubs, or background.
There are usually more opportunities to acquire funding when the subject studied is in demand. Most of the sciences, in particular maths and engineering have some funding at postgraduate level via private industry. For example, The Science Foundation Ireland/DELL Scholarship provides funding for female engineering students. The INTEL, Shannon Women in Technology Scholarship is open to first or second year female undergraduates planning to study computer science. The Irish Taxation Institute Third Level Scholarship Programme is for those interested in a career in taxation.
Area-based Scholarships, besides the HEA grants, include those sometimes offered by city or county councils, sports organisations, or private industry that provide funding opportunities for area residents. Some Credit Unions award a number of education grants or bursaries in their catchment areas for students studying at all levels of higher education. For example, the Cathedral Credit Union in Cork offers a €3,000 Bursary Award to a members entering full-time third level education for the first time. Sports groups such as various Rugby and GAA clubs offer competitive educational bursaries to members.
Both scholarships and bursaries are often targeted to specific groups: single parents, disabled students, or the specific research goals as a student. For students from disadvantaged backgrounds there are several scholarships including the All Ireland Scholarship Scheme that provides third-level education scholarships to top-performing Leaving Certificate students. The Donogh O’Malley Scholarship Scheme offers a minimum of three scholarships in each of the following regions: Dublin City and County, Rest of Leinster, Munster, Connacht/Ulster, with additional awards to be provided in the areas with greater numbers of eligible students.
Fellowships are usually based on skill, GPA, and qualifications to work in a certain field, as opposed to need. Often Fellowships are payment for some type of work, such as internships, fieldwork, or teaching at the college level, while obtaining a master’s degree or PhD. They are intended to enhance the student’s training and support the student so they may focus on their study without needing additional income. Fellowships range from around €10,000 to over €20,000. Again subject areas that are in need of graduates receive most Fellowship funding; Science Foundation Ireland offers fellowships in many areas of science including biomedical research, botany, and chemistry. The Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences holds an annual competition for students entering postgraduate study and in their first few years.
Colleges’ often provide funding themselves, the faculty, and departmental websites will detail the bursaries and prizes on offer. In addition check each school’s Graduate Studies website for information about possible funding. The National University of Ireland (consisting of UCD, UCC, NUI Galway and NUI Maynooth, and a number of other colleges) administers a number of postgraduate prizes and scholarships. Visit www.nui.ie or the specific member College website for details. In addition the websites for each Institute of Technology, DCU, University of Limerick, and Trinity College all list specific prizes, bursaries, scholarships, and Fellowships on offer. For a list of scholarships and fellowships both in Ireland and abroad, see http://www.scholarships-links.com/
The Erasmus programme allows registered undergraduate and postgraduate students to apply for financial support to enable them to spend periods from three to twelve months studying or working in another participating country. The eligible countries are all member states of the EU as well as Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Turkey.
Funding agencies do encourage education as an investment for the community and the future, and people who have the ambition and ability should be encouraged and supported, so if you do require funding for your education dont hesitate to try the options outlined above. Your local county council will probably be the best place to start or individual colleges will usually be very helpfult to prospective students.