By September, more than 1,000 Irish students will be at third-level colleges in the Netherlands, writes Arlene Harris.
Looking at your college options? Then why not look abroad?
Record numbers of students are choosing to head to mainland Europe after the Leaving Cert to study for their college degree.
Guy Flouch of EUNiCAS — a Clare-based company which facilitates the transition to European universities — says 21% of applications for foreign colleges come from Cork while only 18% apply from Dublin — with the remainder from various parts of the country.
“Cork students seem to have a great interest in studying abroad, with the majority of registrations coming from around the county rather than the city itself,” he says.
The Netherlands is the most popular destination and last week several of its university officials visited Cork to share information about available courses and explain why so many local students are going Dutch.
By September 2017, it is estimated that over 1,000 students from Ireland will be doing their degree in a Dutch city. Flouch says this is due to the absence of a ‘point system’ so students can study whatever subject they find interesting, providing they have a reasonable second level qualification.
“Dutch universities are forbidden from selecting based on grades,” he says.
“Although 15 of the 300 programmes taught through English, have exemptions which enable them to look at grades as one of several factors in their selection process.
But most guarantee a right of entry if you meet their minimum requirements (six passes at Leaving Cert including 2 x H4 or 2 x H5 grades). Universities of applied sciences, but not research universities, will accept QQI/FETAC Level 5 as meeting entry requirements.
“A few, such as physiotherapy will have a selection procedure, but this is not based on points and instead on the submission of a personal statement, on which they may be interviewed.”
With such an interest from Cork natives, the EUNiCAS boss says there is still time to apply for courses this year.
“It is probably too late to apply for many of the research universities (across Europe) but still time for most of the Applied Sciences courses,” he says.
“Those who choose to study abroad tend to be flexible thinkers, have good levels of self-esteem, some experience of travel, have done their research and most importantly, have parents who are supportive of the idea.”
There is a statutory fee of €2,000 for students studying across Europe but all EU-students are entitled to a Tuition Fee Loan (currently interest-free) to pay these fees, which they have 35 years to pay back.
Also, students are entitled to grant or loan of €800, towards living expenses, if they get a part-time job.
The most popular courses for Cork students in the Netherlands are psychology, physiotherapy and business.
Sinéad Walsh from Cork city is studying International Business in Groningen and says there are several reasons why she made the decision to trade a degree from an Irish university for a Dutch equivalent.
“The main reason I decided to study abroad is because it’s cheaper,” says the 20-year-old.
“Also I wanted to study business and was told that Denmark or the Netherlands were the best for that subject — so I decided that Groningen was the place for me.
“It was very exciting to leave Ireland and I settled in much faster than I expected — in fact my Mom was probably more nervous than I was.”
Sinéad, who is the youngest of four girls, says the biggest difference between her course and that of her friends’ in Ireland is that the Dutch system seems to require a lot more work.
“When comparing my course to what my friends are doing back home it’s very obvious that university here is much more intense than in Ireland,” she says.
“In the first month I had completed and handed in 12 assignments. Whereas my friends in Ireland barely knew what an assignment was. We also get less holidays – so I will not finish until late June.
“But it’s great to meet people and experience so many different cultures, people and opinions, which really makes you realise how closed-minded Ireland is.”
However, it’s not all positive.
“I only get to see my parents for four or five weeks a year which is very hard but if it’s what is necessary to a good degree, then I guess it’s worth it.”
Jason O’Dwyer is studying International Business and Languages in Rotterdam Business School.
He agrees with Sinéad and says studying in the Netherlands has really broadened his horizons.
“This experience opened my eyes to a new world of possibilities,” says the 24-year-old.
“I chose to not study in Ireland because I wanted to experience a new country and decided on Rotterdam because of the course which mixed both theory and practical learning.
“The opportunity to do a 6-month internship, along with a 6-month exchange year was very attractive as I would leave university with some solid experience both in the professional field and different countries.”
Although the young Cork man says it took a few weeks to get settled, he is completely at home in the Dutch city and would encourage others to follow suit.
“When I first arrived, I was a bit worried because I didn’t have accommodation,” he admits.
“But once I got that sorted and met some cool people, I settled into daily life and didn’t feel any home sickness, because home was just an hour’s flight away.
“The biggest benefit about studying abroad is getting the chance to meet and network with people from all over the world.
“I wanted to study international business and I figured the best way was to be in an environment where I would get the opportunity to get the practical experience and not end up graduating with a degree without any experience ‘in the field’ — and Rotterdam offered all of that.”
And his advice for anyone considering taking up the option.
“My advice for someone considering studying abroad is to just get up and go. Of course some prefer to stay in Ireland. But if you are someone who wants to work internationally or who just has an itchy feeling to study in another country and get some extra experience, then don’t hesitate.
“Wherever you go, you will always meet interesting people who you can share your journey with.”
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