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PhD Programs in Ireland

by Mark Bennett

Why study for a PhD in Ireland?

The British Isles are well established as a global centre of academic excellence, attracting large numbers of international postgraduate students every year. However, some of their most prestigious universities are not on the British mainland or even part of the UK at all; they exist instead in the Republic of Ireland. Ireland's first university, Trinity College Dublin, was founded in 1592, making it one of Britain's seven 'Ancient Universities' and one of the oldest in Europe. It continues to perform well in international rankings, along with other top Irish universities, such as nearby University College Dublin. In fact, Ireland's reputation as a centre of learning dates back even further than the formation of the first European universities. Amidst the turbulence that followed the retreat of the Roman Empire Ireland's monasteries remained bastions of scholarship, preserving important texts and traditions and sending out missionaries and scholars to communicate and re-establish this learning abroad.

Today Ireland continues to adopt a leading position in European higher education and nowhere is this more visible than in its approach to the PhD degree. In recent years Ireland has established one of the most forward-thinking doctoral training systems in Europe, with a core focus on research expertise and academic excellence complimented by additional training in key transferrable skills and supported by enterprise partnerships.

PhDs in the Irish university system

Most higher education in Ireland is organised into two broad pathways, with the majority of its institutions being defined as either Universities or Institutes of Technology. As a PhD student in Ireland you can theoretically study at either type of institution, as both are able to offer doctoral programmes. Though the majority of doctoral training takes place at Universities, Ireland's Institutes of Technology can also offer high quality programmes - particularly in more directly vocational subject-areas. With a variety of providers to choose from, you'll be able to choose which type of institution and PhD programme suits your academic interests and career goals.


Irish universities are - as their name suggests - institutions conducting teaching and research across a range of academic subject areas. In total there are seven public universities in Ireland. Four (University College Dublin, University College Cork, NUI Galway and NUI Maynooth) are federated as constituent colleges of the National University of Ireland (NUI). This membership is largely nominal, however, with individual institutions operating their own programmes. The NUI also partners with other affiliate (non-university) colleges offering training in specific professional or fine arts fields.

In keeping with their extensive research portfolios Ireland's universities undertake the majority of the country's postgraduate training and supervision. Around 25% of their enrolments are Masters or PhD students and roughly 90% of Ireland's doctoral training takes place in this sector.

Irish Institutes of Technology

Higher education is also provided by Ireland's 14 institutes of Technology (IoTs). These offer training in a range of subjects, with a particular focus on skilled professional fields requiring high levels of technical competency. Institutes of Technology are entitled to run postgraduate programmes (including PhDs) and if you are interested in researching in a high-tech field (and perhaps going into industry rather than following an academic career) then you may find suitable research opportunities at an IoT. In practice, however, the majority of their students tend to be undergraduates.

You can find out more about IoTs at the website of their representative body, Institutes of Technology Ireland.


Accreditation of higher education providers and qualifications in Ireland was previously the collective responsibility of a group of bodies dealing with various aspects of the country's tertiary education system. Since 2012, however, the majority of accreditation falls under the remit of Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) which is also responsible for validating awards at IoTs.

Irish course structure and PhD content

The core components of a traditional Irish PhD programme will be recognisable to you if you're familiar with the system used in the UK. Most doctorates last between 3 and 4 years full-time, focussing upon the research and writing of a substantial original thesis and culminating in its oral examination.

In recent years, however, doctoral education in Ireland has begun to undergo substantial revision. A Network of University Deans of Graduate Schools has been established to determine collective strategies for postgraduate education and has published a Graduate Skills Statement detailing the skills and training desired of graduates from Irish PhD programmes. This has lead to a general shift in Irish universities towards a new format for doctoral education known as the Structured PhD.

The Structured PhD

Structured PhD programmes retain all the academic components of a conventional PhD, but also incorporate an organised programme of training and evaluation. This usually involves a formal induction process, ongoing training needs evaluations and periodical progress meetings. Some of these additional components may take the form of additional timetabled classes; others may be managed by you and your supervisor as part of the normal mentoring process. In order to accommodate these additional training components, most Structured PhD programmes last for at least four years full-time.

The aim of the Structured PhD is to ensure that graduates receive all the training necessary to succeed in an academic career, but are also able to develop the skills in leadership, team-work, and project management that will enable them to become desirable candidates for high level positions outside the university sector. These additional expectations and training tasks may seem challenging, but, in practice, they are similar to the approaches being taken in some other European countries where added value and employability have become a growing concern in doctoral training. Ireland has simply taken comparatively greater steps towards formalising these expectations and developing a system designed to realise them, providing you with an excellent opportunity to gain a cutting-edge modern doctorate.

Assessment and examinations

Both 'traditional' and Structured PhD programmes in Ireland are awarded based on the examination and defence of a candidate's thesis. As in the UK, this process involves the appointment of an internal and an external examiner and is usually conducted in a closed room environment. The submission of your thesis for examination may require the formal approval of your supervisor and, on Structured programmes, this will usually be conditional on your having satisfactorily completed all outstanding training components.

Admissions and applications for an Irish PhD

The academic year at most Irish higher education providers runs between late September and June, with holiday periods at Christmas and Easter in addition to a summer vacation over July and August. Points of entry onto a PhD programme may be flexible, but you will usually be expected to commence your studies at the beginning of a term. Programmes with additional coursework and training components may also have tighter enrolment requirements.

Admission to an Irish PhD programme will usually require you to hold a relevant Masters degree involving a significant research component. A taught Masters degree incorporating a postgraduate thesis may be sufficient, but some universities require candidates to enrol initially on a Masters degree by research (MRes) programme before upgrading. This is also the process for candidates without a Masters degree and is referred to as a PhD Track registration. In practice this procedure is similar to the format used in the UK and elsewhere; it is designed to ensure that you acquire the necessary experience and skills in independent academic research before formally taking on the challenge of a PhD project.

Recognition of foreign qualifications in Ireland will not usually be a problem, particularly if you have previously studied elsewhere in Europe. Your university should be able to provide you with information on its procedure for accrediting foreign degrees (if required); you can also get in touch with Ireland's Qualification Recognition Service, which functions as the Irish branch of ENIC-NARIC.

In addition to your existing qualifications you will also be expected to provide a personal statement of your research aims and interests and, in most cases, attend an interview with your prospective faculty.

The Postgraduate Applications Centre

Several universities in Ireland conduct their applications process online through the Postgraduate Applications Centre. In practice this is similar to systems such as UCAS (used for undergraduate admissions in the UK); you will be assigned an identification number and provided with the means to submit relevant information electronically. Not all Irish universities (or courses) use PAC, but establishing whether or not your prospective PhD programme does is relatively easy to do by visiting the PAC website or consulting the applications and admissions information published by the institution in question.

PAC charges a non-refundable processing fee of €50 ($65), but allows simultaneous applications to be made in parallel to different universities. Universities not using the PAC system may also charge an application fee and this is likely to be between €30 ($40) and €50 ($65).

Language requirements

University education in Ireland is carried out in English. If English is not your first language (and you have not previously studied for an English-language degree) you may be required to submit a language test score. Irish universities are generally happy to accept most common international tests including the TOEFL, IELTS and the PTE Academic. You can learn more about these in our guide to international English language tests.

The language test scores typically required by Irish universities 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

You can also take the chance to learn a little Irish during your time studying a PhD in the Republic of Ireland. Granted, this isn't going to get you hired for your language skills in international business, but it will demonstrate a spirit of adventure and a flair for making the most of your experiences and opportunities. In any case, it'll be 'good craic'.

Visas and immigration for PhD students in Ireland

Ireland is a member state of the EU and, as such, allows students from other EU (and EEA) countries to enter without requiring a formal visa. Provided you are enrolled at a recognised Irish higher education institution you will not need a residents permit either, though this will change if your registration lapses and you remain in the country for longer than three months.

If you are a citizen of a country outside the EU and the EEA you will need to apply for a visa to enter Ireland. In addition to your visa you will also need to register with the Irish immigration authorities and apply for a residence card; this will allow you to leave and re-enter Ireland during your PhD.

Visa applications

Applications can be made via the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, which also offers more information on the documentation required for applications in specific categories. You can also contact the Irish embassy or consulate in your home country for more information.

As a rule you will need to provide a valid passport as well as photographs suitable for identification purposes. Non-EU and EEA citizens applying for a student visa will also need to prove that they have been accepted by a university and have paid any initial fees.

Some immigration exceptions exist for nationals of certain countries, including a visa waiver programme that allows citizens of countries such as China, India and Russia to enter Ireland on a UK visa. To learn more about Irish visa requirements and possible exemptions you can check the website of the Irish Citizens Information Board.

Health insurance

EU and EEA citizens will be covered for hospital treatment provided they carry a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Students from other countries will need to acquire their own private health insurance and proof of this will be required during applications for a visa and residence card.

PhD fees and funding in the Republic of Ireland

Universities in the Republic of Ireland charge no additional fees to international students from within the EU. Rates will vary between individual PhD programmes, but will usually be between €4-6,000 ($4,155-7,730)per year as a minimum. Costs in fields such as business or medicine can be substantially higher with some programmes costing between €20,000 ($25,770) and €30,000 ($38,650) per year.

Non EU students will usually pay fees at a higher international rate. Again, the exact costs vary between programmes and institutions, but you can expect to be charged at least €9,000 ($11,600), with some courses costing over €30,000 ($38,650) per year.

To investigate specific costs in your subject area you can visit institutional websites as well as compare courses at FindAPhD.com.


A wide range of funding options exist for students seeking to study for a PhD in the Republic of Ireland.

The Irish Research Council functions similarly to its UK equivalents and provides three main funding schemes:

  • The Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship supports academic research in all subject areas and is available to international students seeking to study in Ireland.
  • The Employment-Based Postgraduate Programme is also multi-disciplinary, but operates through employer partnerships at specific institutions.
  • The Enterprise Partnership Programme is designed for high quality researchers seeking to develop key transferrable skills.

You can find out more about these and other programmes at the website of the Irish Research Council.

Institutes of Technology Ireland operates an Ireland Homecoming Study Programme, funding members of the wider Irish diaspora to return to the country and study at an IoT. This may be applicable to postgraduates and will usually involve a partial fee waiver.

Other funding packages and scholarship schemes are available from individual universities and information about these can usually be found on institutional websites.


Our own postgraduate funding website provides a comprehensive database of small grants and bursaries available to support postgraduate study around the world, including travel bursaries, living cost support, fee waivers and exchange programmes. Click here to start searching for funding to study a PhD in the Republic of Ireland, or elsewhere.

Careers and employment with an Irish PhD

The engagement between academic research and commercial enterprise is a key tenet of Ireland's ongoing strategy for higher education. This is reflected in its approach to doctoral training, particularly in the development of Structured PhD programmes. Several postgraduate courses in Ireland are also operated in partnership with non-academic bodies and enterprise stakeholders whose input helps design courses that will produce desirable graduates.

As such a doctorate from an Irish university will not only demonstrate that you possess advanced academic subject knowledge: it will also allow you to develop a range of skills and experiences specifically designed to help you stand out as a high quality candidate for prospective employers.

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