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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Higher Education Funding


3.Funding in education

3.2Higher Education Funding

Last update: 27 November 2023

Higher Level Education


In 2015/16 there were 29 higher level institutions financially aided by the Department of Education and Skills including 7 universities, 5 teacher education colleges, 14 institutes of technology, and 3 other colleges.  €1.566bn was spent in 2015. The enrolment consisted of 179850 full time students, 37249 part-time students and 6015 remote students. However, the grants cover full  time students only.

The State does not fund the cost of part-time students in higher education, or higher education in private colleges, except in a limited range of special initiatives such as Springboard where colleges are successful in bidding for a competitive funding stream.

Any institution may offer higher education awards if it satisfies the quality assurance criteria of Quality and Qualifications Ireland, but this does mean they will be State funded. Under Section 52 of the Universities Act 1997 no organisation may use the term "university" without the approval of the Minister for Education and Skills.  In the Institutes of Technology Act 2006, the legislation is confined to colleges specifically designated by the Minister and listed in the Schedule to the Act.

In private institutions, fees are determined by the provider.

State funded higher education institutions are funded by the Higher Education Authority on foot of funding and performance compacts agreed by each college with the HEA through a process of Strategic Dialogue. The HEA publishes sectoral profiles for each college setting out key indicators which are used to determine the overall performance of the institution. These changes were introduced as part of the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030. 2% of funding is withheld pending a review of performance by the HEA.

The Higher Education Authority also operates a number of competitive funding streams for which institutions (and in some cases, private institutions) may bid. These include

  • Springboard – a national initiative to re-skill the unemployed through higher education in key skill areas. Some 6000 places annually are provided, but this was increased to 9000 places in 2016.
  • The Strategic Innovation Fund – aimed at encouraging modernisation, quality and effectiveness in higher education
  • Various research funds and Access measures

While institutions have academic autonomy, these funding streams, together with the move towards funding compacts, are designed to incentivise change to achieve the objectives set out under the Higher Education Strategy to 2030.  Apart from special funding streams such as Springboard for the unemployed, the Department does not fund part-time students in higher education, and part time students are not eligible for the student support schemes.

Financial Autonomy and Control

Funds for State funded higher education institutions are allocated by the Department to the Higher Education Authority, and distributed by that Authority to the institutions.  Earmarked funding must be spent for the purpose intended. Other than this, there is discretion and academic autonomy as how the funds are spent. Performance compacts are agreed by the HEA with each institution, and 2% of overall funding is withheld pending a review of outcomes. An employment control framework is set out governing the numbers of staff which may be employed in the overall sector, with the HEA having discretion as to how this is distributed across institutions. A framework for pay and conditions of staff is negotiated centrally by the Department.  Institutions may also generate their own funds. 

Each higher education institution has a Governing Authority as provided for in legislation, which is responsible for the management of the college. Accounts are submitted annually to the Department of Education and Skills and the Higher Education Authority and are laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. All institutions are subject to public audit. 

The State has no role in the operation of private colleges, except insofar as they may offer awards and be subject to the quality assurance criteria of Quality and Qualifications Ireland, or be in receipt of funds under an initiative such as Springboard. 

Higher Education Fees

Fees for under-graduate courses in State funded institutions were abolished in 1996. However, this was eroded over time, and a "student services" charge was introduced which now stands at €3000 per annum, set by the Department of Education and Skills.

A system of means tested grants is available, and applicants meeting the conditions qualify for a maintenance grant and have the student service charge funded by the State.

Post graduate fees are set by the institutions. Cover for maintenance grants for post graduate courses was abolished in 2011 as part of the budgetary cutbacks made in the recession. However, a limited provision has been announced in the 2017 budget, to come into effect from September 2017, to partially restore maintenance grants for the poorest applicants. Based on the means thresholds set out in the scheme, students may qualify for a grant, or partial grant, towards the cost of fees. 

Details of grant thresholds and awards under the student support schemes are set out at Grant applications are processed centrally by Student Universal Support Ireland (, a service operated by Dublin City Education and Training Board on behalf of the Department. It will be seen that the rates of maintenance grant is substantially higher for those on the lowest incomes.

Students do not receive grants unless they are attending recognised (i.e State funded) higher education institutions. The fee grant is paid to the institutions. The maintenance grant is paid to the students. The grant schemes cover full-time students only.

Non EU/EEA students are not eligible for grants and are generally required to pay the full economic fee, which is set by the colleges. This may vary from €4000-€52000 depending on the college and the discipline. (source:  From September 2015 the Department of Education and Skills announced that asylum seekers who have been at least 5 years in the Irish education system would be eligible to be treated on the same basis as Irish nationals provided they are not the subject of a deportation order.

An estimated 35-37% of all students qualify for grants. (source: Performance Evaluation in Higher Education: Profiles 2013/14)

Tax relief is available for higher education fees in excess of €3000 per annum. The expenditure on higher education grants in 2015 was €414m in 2015.

Financial support for Learner Families

Grants are not paid to families. Tuition grants are paid to colleges, and maintenance grants are paid to students. Students with special needs may benefit from special access routes to higher education under the DARE scheme (disability access route to education). In addition the National Office for Equity of Access to Higher Education operates a Fund for Students with Disabilities to enable them avail of additional supports such as adaptive technology, readers, sign language interpreters etc. The National Access Office also promotes "whole institution" strategies and good practice in supporting learners with special needs. Targets are set nationally for participation rates in higher education for students with disabilities, from socio economically disadvantaged groups, and for mature students.

The Disability Access Fund supported some 8524 students in higher education in 2015/16. (source : Revised Estimates For Public Services 2016: Vote 26 Education and Skills

Supports for learners sets out the rates and income thresholds for the higher education student support schemes. In addition, colleges have access to a discretionary Student Assistance Fund for students needing additional support.As indicated above, means tested tuition grants are paid to colleges in respect of eligible students under the Higher Education Student Support Schemes. Maintenance grants are paid to students.

Private Higher Education

State funds and student support grants are not paid to private colleges. However, they may be successful in bidding for certain competitive funding streams such as Springboard, an initiative to provide higher education in key skill areas for the unemployed.

Private institutions can offer nationally recognised higher education awards if they comply with the quality assurance criteria of Quality and Qualifications Ireland.