Modern Ireland: School Life
Part 3: University
The thing about Irish dance is that it’s more than dance—it’s a cultural art form that incorporates traditional music and even lore into its performance. And the thing about Irish dancers is that they tend to not only fall in love with the dance part, but all of it, the entirety of Ireland. For many parents the idea of your dancer flitting off across the Atlantic for college (sorry, university) is a terrifying one (though Miss Courtney completed her entire degree—in Irish dance and music no less—in Limerick, and Miss Devon studied abroad for a full year in London. We promise we called home a bunch!) But for many Irish dancers, it’s the dream—so we’re here to tell you a little bit about university in Ireland!
First off, it works a little differently to a typical U.S. college: to start, undergraduates don’t apply simply to the school of their choice, but to a specific course of study within that school. It’s essentially like deciding your major before you get in! While some students also take on a secondary, usually related course of study, all your classes revolve around the specific department you’re in or, as they would say, course that you’re on. These courses of study are also typically shorter than the U.S. with the standard for general study being three years (though some programs are four and others, say medicine or architecture, can take up to five, though some include post-graduate work.)
The way teaching itself is approached can be a bit jarring for American students, too, as the structure can seem a bit loose compared to what we’re used to. Most U.S. colleges would be considered overbearing to the typical Irish college student, with each class typically having a large number of assignments and tests that determine your grade with strict and direct instructions. Irish higher learning has a completely different pedagogical philosophy that concentrates more on critical thinking and relies less on the number of assignments and more on the quality of your work. While this can be a difficult adjustment for Americans, it works well for disciplined students as it fosters independent thinking and the ability to take initiative. While no real rubric can be a learning curve, we speak from personal experience when we say that professors are generally extremely helpful and mindful of that adjustment period!
But the differences don’t end there! Grading in Ireland (and the UK in general) can be a bit of heart-stopping surprise—the scale, instead of 0-100, is 1-70 (though you can receive up to an 80 on an assignment, sometimes. It’s unclear when, as it largely seems to be at the professor’s discretion.) That means a 65 isn’t a D, but an A or even an A+, though Irish schools don’t use a letter grading scale. Instead, 70 or above is considered a First Class Honors, 69-60 an Upper Second Class Honors, 59-50 a Lower Second Class Honors, 49-45 a Third Class Honors, and 44-40 a Compensating Fail, i.e. the lowest technically passing grade. However, each school’s scale is slightly different, with many professors viewing a 70 or above as something students should be working all three years toward—meaning many won’t award high grades to first year students, wanting to see them progress toward that “perfect” goal.
The cost is another huge difference, especially you’re an Irish citizen. Getting a bachelor’s degree in Ireland at one of the state’s universities is free for Irish citizens, citizens of any EU/EAA countries, and Swiss citizens. Just last year the Irish government committed 11.1 billion EUR into its educational system. But what’s the cost like for American students? The average American student’s education (BA) in America will cost them between $35,572 and $120,376 (depending on the school and if they graduate in four years—and remember these are the average and only includes tuition, not room and board, books, plane tickets, etc.) The average cost for an American student in Ireland is 18,000 EUR ($21,231) to 36,000 EUR ($42,463.) Two points here: not only do the fees have a smaller range (and are less subject to change,) the most exorbitant possible cost is less than $10k more than the average cost of the least expensive college option in the U.S. With the average student debt in the U.S. coming up as approximately $29k, an Irish education might be saving you and your dancer money in the long term. (Check out some more detailed cost of living stats here.)
Then you get down to your choices—and there’s a lot of them! For a small country, Ireland has a staggering number of schools to choose from, with seven governmentally-funded universities, a number of institutes of technology (which include a wide range of vocational courses,) colleges of education, and private colleges—many if not all of which offer a similar level of tertiary degree. These universities (Dublin City University, National University of Ireland, Galway, University of Limerick, Maynooth University, University College Dublin, University College Cork, and Trinity College Dublin) are the ones most similar to a U.S. state school. However, the term “state school” can leave an underwhelming impression, while the truth is that Ireland’s universities all rank within the top schools in the world--Trinity College Dublin, for example, was founded in 1592 as an Irish answer to Oxford and Cambridge.
All in all, there’s a ton of positives to higher education in Ireland. Between shorter courses of study, a teaching pedagogy that encourages independent thinking, a grading system that encourages progress over perfection, more affordable costs overall, and plenty of high-quality choices—there’s not much to complain of beyond the distance. So sure, if your dancer wants to head to Ireland at 18 it’ll be a long flight to see them—but they could also be exposed to a culture they’ve been invested in for their entire childhood, with benefits galore!
This post is part of a series. Read our last Modern Ireland post, all about primary and secondary school uniforms, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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