With fees to do postgraduate courses at universities in Ireland and the United Kingdom remaining high, continental European universities are increasingly attractive not just for those searching for adventure but for those with limited budgets, writes Fergal Browne.
Nearly 900 degree programmes are available in English in universities across continental Europe with the majority in countries with no or low tuition fees. Grants to incentivise students from abroad to study there are also widely available.
The Netherlands, which accounts for nearly a quarter of the English-language degree programmes in continental Europe, charges €1,950 per year in tuition fees, but for all EU students this is covered by a student loan provided by the Dutch Government.
In four European countries, the Scandinavian countries and Finland, there are no tuition fees at all, while in Germany and Austria, fees are minimal in public universities.
“There’s a divide between northern and southern Europe. The north offers a lot of degree programme in English as they recognise that the world’s global language is English”, says Guy Flouch, from EUNICAS, a support body which helps British and Irish students who wish to study in Europe.
“The vast majority of Master and PhD courses are free of charge in Germany. There is though a semester contribution, depending on the university, that may be up to €250 per semester. That applies to anyone. There’s no difference between an international student and a national student in Germany”, says Vanessa Huebner, the Programme Coordinator for German Academic Exchange Service(DAAD as per its German acronym).
This means that universities like the University of Heidelberg (ranked 70th in the Times Higher Education Rankings) or the Erasmus University in Rotterdam (72nd) perform very strongly academically and are also cheaper to attend.
DAAD, which functions as a support network for students studying in Germany, also provides students with a grant of €750 for living expenses while in Germany in addition to a lump sum for travel costs. Similar funding is available in other countries including the Netherlands.
“They want Irish students because Ireland has a younger population with more students, whereas across continental Europe the fertility rate is declining. ‘Get me Irish students’ is what they always tell me,” says Guy. Irish students also have higher completion rates in all courses than students in their home countries.
Entry requirements are generally low as well, meaning an appropriate undergraduate degree is usually all that’s required for postgrad study. “In other European countries, they have a much stronger belief in education as a right”, says Guy.
Those worried about the languages have little to fret about either, says Guy. “You can easily do a Masters and come home having not learned the language if you wanted to. Most people speak English, particularly young people”.
This also leads to unexpected advantages for those who need part-time work to fund their studies. “I just came back from the Netherlands. There I met Irish students who work in call-centres part-time with English because companies like Vodafone have bases over there. Others work in the trendy bars where everyone speaks English,” adds Guy.
For those in Germany, most Germans universities incentivise foreign students to learn the language by offering German classes in the third-level institution itself. Expensive evening classes are unnecessary.
Irish students on the EUNICAS database offer glowing reviews of their time spent abroad, not just in terms of high quality study. “I would repeat my decision to study in the Netherlands a thousand times over. Best decision I ever made”, said one Irish student.
Vanessa from DAAD says the most popular sector for Irish students to travel to study in Germany is Engineering. According to employability studies, graduates need to demonstrate to employers in the engineering sector that they can live abroad as opportunities remain limited in the sector in Ireland and studying abroad proves you can adapt to different cultures, which is a bonus to potential employers.
“Realistically there are some companies in the Engineering sector you’ll be hired to work for and straight away you’ll go to Saudi Arabia or Calgary in Canada so having that experience abroad is important”, says Angela Collins, Careers Advisor at Waterford Institute of Technology.
Of course the quality of life is an essential pull factor to studying abroad too. “I remember last March I was sitting outside in a café in Italy, sipping a double espresso and thinking ‘Damn. I wish I could be here for longer’. But for students it’s a very real opportunity”, says Guy.