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PhD Study in Ireland - A Guide for 2019

Ireland has one of the oldest higher education systems in the world, recognised for its high-quality teaching and research. The Irish Republic also has a rich and vibrant culture, and with a reputation as one of the friendliest and safest countries in the world, it’s a popular choice of PhD study.

This page covers everything you’ll need to know to take advantage of postgraduate research in Ireland. It includes information on the Irish university system, the structure of a typical Irish doctoral programme and key facts for fees, funding and visa requirements.

PhD opportunities in Ireland – what’s on offer for 2019?

Ireland’s renowned university system dates back to the 16th century. Despite the country’s comparatively small size, it has many universities that are among the best, globally.

The ‘Emerald Isle’ has a rich cultural history, reflected in its many famous figures of the Arts and Humanities such as Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift and Seamus Heaney. Ireland has also invested considerably in Science, Engineering and Technology through its academic enterprise partnerships with industry.

  • International outlook – the country is popular among international students giving Ireland a diverse and young environment
  • Academic legacy – Ireland has one of the oldest university systems in the world, and is home to Trinity College Dublin, an ‘Ancient University’ of the UK and Ireland
  • Enterprise opportunities – Ireland is moving towards more structured PhDs supporting practice-based and industrial doctoral programmes with a focus on specialist transferrable skills
  • An EU country with native English-speakers – the Irish Republic is an English-speaking country of the Eurozone (along with Malta) and is home to many multinational companies with opportunities for future PhD graduates (like you!)

PhD Study in Ireland - Key Details
Universities 26
Nobel Prizes 7
Oldest University Trinity College Dublin (1592)
International Students 17,883
PhD Length 3-4 years
Representative Fees €6,000-15,000 per year
Academic Year September to August

Irish universities

The higher education institutions in Ireland are organised in two main ways: Universities (including the National University of Ireland and its member colleges) and Institutes of Technology (IoTs). Both types of institution are able to offer accredited PhD programmes.

Universities

Ireland has seven state-supported, but largely autonomous, universities. These institutions of higher learning provide teaching and research opportunities across a broad range of academic fields. The oldest is Trinity College Dublin, considered one of the UK and Ireland’s ‘ancient universities’. Four of the universities at Dublin, Cork, Galway and Maynooth are constituents of the National University of Ireland (NUI), although they still conduct themselves independently.

As a PhD student, it’s worth bearing in mind that universities tend to undertake the majority of Ireland’s research activity – and receive high levels of funding for it.

In addition to its four universities, the NUI also recognises four Colleges which offer specialised training in professional or fine arts disciplines. Two of these offer PhD programmes: the Institute of Public Administration (a private body for public servants) administers a Doctorate in Governance; and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) offers PhD projects in Medicine-associated fields.

Institutes of Technology

There are 14 Irish Institutes of Technology (IoT), located across Ireland. IoTs offer a range of courses focusing on technical, technological, craft and apprentice programmes. Although IoTs do offer PhDs in their areas of expertise, the majority of students (roughly 94%) at these institutions are undergraduates. PhD programmes may also include vocational work in industry as part of your doctorate.

Other opportunities

Ireland also hosts Colleges of Education that offer higher level training. These private colleges are state-supported and specialise in teacher education. However, some also offer postgraduate courses.

Accreditation

Each Irish university conducts its own examinations and grants its own awards, which are recognised by the state. With the exception of the Dublin Institute of Technology, IoTs have their PhD degrees validated or awarded under the remit of Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI).

Irish university cities

There are several cities in Ireland with one or more universities and large numbers of students:

Irish university rankings

Despite being a country of relatively small size, Ireland’s universities are consistently recognised for their world-leading teaching and research.


Top Irish Universities in 2019
University THE 2019 QS 2019 ARWU 2018
Trinity College Dublin 120 =104 151-200
University College Dublin 201-250 =193 301-400
Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland 201-250 - -
University College Cork 301-350 =338 401-500
National University of Ireland, Galway 301-350 =260 401-500
Maynooth University 351-400 701-750 -
Dublin City University 401-500 =422 -
University of Limerick 501-600 511-520 -
Dublin Institute of Technology 801-1000 751-800 -
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

Do rankings matter for PhD study?

University rankings can help you choose a PhD project or programme, provided you know what to look at. Our guide explains how to use rankings as a prospective postgraduate.

PhD structure

PhD programmes in Ireland are organised in a similar way to those in the UK. Doctoral degrees are third-cycle programmes in compliance with the Bologna Process. As elsewhere, the core component of doctoral work is the advancement of knowledge through original research.

PhD length

A standard full-time PhD in Ireland is usually completed in 3-4 years. For more structured programmes this is normally 4 years.

The Irish academic year is similar to that of the UK and universities are free to set their own teaching, examination and holiday dates. In general, the academic year starts in early September and ends when the new one begins, typically in August. Semesters run from September to December and January to April, with holidays over the Christmas and Easter periods.

Supervision

During your PhD, you will be supervised under the responsibility of at least one academic supervisor, the department or school, and the research institution. Your primary supervisor will be an active academic in the relevant research area and will have the principal responsibility for the management and supervision of your studies and research. There may also be a secondary supervisor or joint-supervisor, who may be non-academic. There is also a supporting supervisory panel of other researchers to monitor your progress and the supervision process – these can be from different universities or countries.

There will be regular formal meetings and reviews throughout your doctoral programme with your supervisor and supervisory panel.

Assessment and examination

Like the UK system, all full-time PhD students in Ireland are initially registered for a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) degree and must successfully complete an assessment within their first year to upgrade to a PhD degree.

The work you produce during your PhD must make a “contribution to knowledge” and / or be “suitable for publication in whole or in part”. You will be assessed based upon a written thesis and an oral examination (viva voce). These are judged by an internal examiner (an experienced researcher with some relevant expertise) and an external examiner (a recognised expert in your thesis area).

The submission of the thesis requires the approval of your primary supervisor, and the viva voce examination is usually carried out in a closed room environment. For structured PhDs, you may also be required to complete training components.

Structured PhDs

A significant development in the Irish doctoral education system is the move towards more structured PhD programmes. This is based on the principle that, as a modern PhD student, you should not just produce original research, but also develop important specialist and transferable skills.

These structured PhDs retain much of the traditional PhD format, but can also offer you several support activities including a formal induction, progress monitoring by advisory and supervisory panels, ongoing professional development needs evaluation, access to development opportunities and professional placements.

On a structured PhD programme, you will usually engage with research enterprise partners. This facilitates input from non-academic stakeholders upon the content of your doctoral programme. The enterprise partner may also provide a non-academic supervisor, an industry placement, and be an employment destination after completion of your PhD.

Due to the additional training as part of the structured PhD, they usually last four years full-time.

Fees and funding

PhD tuition fees in Ireland are generally comparable to those across the rest of the EU. The fees remain the same for EU / EEA and Swiss-national students. There are also several national and university funding opportunities available for prospective international doctoral researchers.

Irish PhD fees

Fees for PhD study in Ireland are set by individual higher education institutions. Typically, these are a minimum of between $6-10,000 per year. However, the fees can vary depending on:

  • Your university of study
  • Your mode of study (part-time vs. full-time)
  • Your subject area (costs can be slightly higher for Science, Engineering and Technology PhDs compared to Arts and Humanities, and significantly higher for subjects like Business or Medicine)
  • Your nationality (international students from non-EU and non-EEA countries have fees around 2-3 times higher)

The exact cost of fees can be found on institutional websites or listed along with projects and programmes here on FindAPhD.

Irish PhD funding

The Republic of Ireland is a popular destination for international students and provides several PhD funding opportunities for postgraduates at its universities.

The Irish Research Council offers several awards, scholarships and funding programmes. These include the:

Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) awards student maintenance grants for EU, EEA and Swiss national students with low household incomes.

The Ireland Homecoming Study Programme offered by the Technological Higher Education Association supports descendants of Irish nationals to pursue higher education at Institutes of Technology.

Other PhD funding opportunities are also available, including the following:

These programmes are limited – there are generally more PhD scholarship opportunities available directly from individual universities.

Funding from Irish universities

Individual Irish universities often have a wide range of postgraduate funding and support opportunities for international students. These can include education grants, loans and scholarships.

You can find more funding information by browsing our listings of current PhD projects and programmes in Ireland. Additionally, the details of these funding opportunities can be found on the specific PhD listing page, or the prospective university’s website.

Applying for a PhD in Ireland

The PhD application process in Ireland is very similar to the process in the UK. You can find information on contact details by browsing PhDs in Ireland on FindAPhD, or by visiting university websites directly.

Admission requirements

In most cases, a Masters degree in the relevant area of research or providing relevant research skills is required to be accepted on a PhD programme. This is not always the case, as a student with an Honours Bachelor Degree with a high classification (2.1 or higher) may be accepted initially onto a Masters research programme, prior to transfer onto a doctoral programme.

Many equivalent foreign qualifications are recognised in Ireland and are admissible for PhD applications. Further information can be found from the individual university’s website or using Quality and Qualifications Ireland.

Prospective PhD students who have different qualifications or experience are considered on a case-by-case basis.

PhD entry requirements

The general eligibility criteria for PhD applications in Ireland is similar to most other countries in the EU. Our guide explains entry requirements for a prospective PhD student.

Language requirements

Although the official language of Ireland is Irish. However, English is used for most day-to-day purposes, including university teaching. All courses taught at Irish higher education institutes will be taught in English.

Non-native English speakers will be required to submit results from an English language test. The scores typically required are as follows:

Test Score Requirement
Computer-Based TOEFL 220
Paper-Based TOEFL 550
IELTS 6.5 (minimum of 6.0 in each component)
PTE Academic Minimum score of 6.3
Cambridge Assessment English Grade C (both Advanced and Proficiency)

The requirement for other English language tests can be found at Education in Ireland.

Application process

At Irish higher education institutes, all prospective international postgraduate students apply directly to the international office of the institute.

Some universities require to you to apply via the Postgraduate Applications Centre (PAC). This is similar to the UCAS system for undergraduate students in the UK. Using this portal is fairly easy; each applicant is given an identification number and all your application data is submitted electronically. More information can be found by visiting the PAC website.

A non-refundable application fee is usually required when applying. When using the PAC system, this is €50; for universities not using the PAC system this is typically between €30 and €50.

The application process will also require additional documents and assessments, such as a research proposal and interview.

Applying for a PhD

PhD applications in Ireland will require additional application documents and processes. These are similar to those in the UK. Our guide explains PhD applications for a prospective PhD student.

Student visas

The Republic of Ireland is an EU member state, so, if you’re a student from another EU or EEA countries, or a Swiss national, you will be free to enter without a visa. Also, you won’t require a separate resident’s permit, provided you are enrolled at a recognised higher education institution.

Citizens of non-EU countries will require a study visa to study in Ireland.

Visa applications are made through the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS).

Applying for a study visa

In general, you will need to enrol on a course and pay for study before applying for a study visa. Evidence of this will usually be required as part of your application.

More detail on the study visa application process, including the require supporting documents, can be found on the specific INIS study visa page.

Residence registration

Non-EU and EEA PhD students will need to register for an Irish Residence Permit (IRP) for the duration of their study. You must be registered within 90 days of arrival, and you should apply for immigration permission before coming to Ireland. This is done through one of two services, depending on where you will be studying your PhD in Ireland:

There is a fee of €300 per person to register and renew an IRP. IRPs are issued by post for Dublin residents, or by collection at a registration office for non-Dublin residents.

Health insurance

EU, EEA and Swiss national students will be covered for most hospital treatment provided they have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Other international students will require private medical insurance cover. Some higher education institutions may arrange this on your behalf. Evidence of the medical insurance may be needed as part of the visa application.

Further information can be found from the Irish embassy or consulate of your home country.

Next steps

The rich heritage of Ireland’s university system and its welcoming charm make the country a strong choice as a location to study your PhD.

Ireland’s economy is on the rise, and the structured PhD engagement with enterprise creates the potential for good employment opportunities post-PhD.

Can I work in Ireland after my PhD?

EU, EEA and Swiss students are allowed to work in Ireland after study.

Non-EU / EEA / Swiss national students are eligible for the Third Level Graduate Scheme (Stamp 1G) which enables you to work in Ireland for 12 months from your PhD completion date. This can be renewed for a further 12 months if necessary. This also requires the Irish Residence Permit (IRP) to be renewed, and a letter confirming your PhD completion from the university.

If you wish to remain in Ireland for longer than permitted by the Stamp 1G, you must apply for a Employment Permit from Ireland’s Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

Find a PhD in Ireland

Ready to start browsing some current PhD opportunities in Ireland? Alternatively, you can look at our other guides to PhD study abroad.

Last updated - 09/11/2018

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