The CAO online application system has just recently opened, bringing many students to that critical juncture regarding decisions about their life path. Those who are considering apprenticeships, post Leaving Cert courses (PLCs ), private colleges, and gap years still have time to mull over their options while they prepare for exams. Students who are seeking to enter programmes in a wide range of disciplines, in systems where entry requirements are low, need to make those big decisions soon.
Traditionally students were forced to look to Europe for alternatives to high points courses here (medicine, veterinary, and physiotherapy ), but now they are voluntarily applying to these programmes and others from a full range of disciplines. There is a greater understanding now as to what is available, and how low the cost is, compared with here. The United Kingdom may have been the main location of choice some years ago but in the wake of post Brexit (the withdrawal of NHS funding of fees ), and uncertainty regarding the entitlements of grant holders, more and more students are looking to mainland Europe.
EUNiCAS is a centralised European universities application support service and website. It was the brainchild of Guy Flouch, who has spent 20 years working in student recruitment roles for third level institutions. Costing just €28 to access the service, students are not only assisted in choosing which programmes to apply to, but are supported in the entire application process. One of the most popular destinations is the Netherlands, where four institutions offer physiotherapy through English. There are currently (2017-2018 ) more than 1,000 Irish students registered on degree programmes, taught through English, in Dutch universities. Tuition fees there are just over €2,000, though two of the institutions charge a supplement of €1,000. This can be paid through an interest-free tuition fee loan over 15 to 35 years. Not only can students take their SUSI grant with them, but there is further financial support from the Dutch government. There are no fees in Scandinavia and most German states. There are at least another 1,000 students studying in other countries, in particular Poland, Denmark, Hungary, and Italy. For example, over half (38 students ) of the first years in the veterinary science programme in Warsaw are now Irish. Through the EUNiCAS system a student can apply to up to eight programmes across Europe in addition to CAO choices.
There are more than 50 medical programmes, taught through English, in the EU and recognised by the Irish Medical Council. Many of these courses have lower entry requirements and lower fees. They use a range of assessment instruments including personal statements, references, competency in science subjects, and interviews. Generally European universities don’t select based on points alone.
In terms of reputation, QS – one of the major rankings agencies – places the Dutch and Italian faculties highly. The public Italian medical schools, of which there are seven, charge between €640 and €3,800, based on parental income. Most Irish medical students in European universities tend to study in Poland, Hungary, or the Czech Republic, with growing numbers in Italy.
Guy Flouch, speaking at Options West in Galway in October, told students that while the entry requirements may be lower, the workload is often much higher with no option to repeat, so only “serious and committed” students need apply. While there are obviously challenges in settling in, the evidence seems to suggest that Irish students flourish in a variety of ways while abroad, according to Mr Flouch.
My own time on Erasmus while studying at the University of Verona many years ago was still by far the most enjoyable and formative time in my life. I would encourage students to look at the possibilities. Einstein said a long time ago, imagination is more important than knowledge. His rationale — “It embraces the entire world.”