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Second-cycle programmes


7.Higher Education

7.3Second-cycle programmes

Last update: 16 June 2022

Second Cycle Programmes

Branches of Study

There are two types of Masters Degree in Ireland.  This can be either a taught course or based on research.  A Masters programme lasts 1-2 years and usually involves course work and a thesis. In the case of a research masters, there are generally opportunities for students to continue on to a PhD qualification.
Masters Programmes are delivered across all disciplines in the higher education sector.

Admission Requirements

Admission requirements are a matter for individual higher education institutions.
In general, entry to a programme leading to a taught Masters Degree is typically for holders of Honours Bachelor Degrees. Also in some cases, entry to such programmes can be permitted for those with Ordinary Bachelor Degrees or equivalent who have some relevant work experience. Furthermore, in some cases, entry to such programmes is permitted for people with extensive experience.

Entry to a programme leading to a research Masters Degree is typically for holders of Honours Bachelor Degrees, typically with a high classification attained – first or second class honours.


In general terms, tertiary institutions enjoy academic freedom in the design of their curricula. No guidelines exist regarding a minimum common curriculum for tertiary level. Once courses are established academic departments have the authority to adapt and refine them, but major course changes need the approval of internal bodies such as faculties. Periodically, peer reviews of the work of departments take place as part of quality assurance processes, and course content may be subject to change in the light of outcomes of the review process.

Where courses are subject to the approval of professional bodies such as the Medical Council or the Law Society, tertiary institutions need to abide by the requirements of such bodies if the courses are to be recognised for professional license purposes. Within the university sector, new course proposals are processed through formal approval mechanisms. Those proposing new courses are required to justify their initiative under a variety of headings, including the need/demand for such a course, the proposed content, costings, pedagogic and assessment methods etc. External peer review opinions are obtained on the proposal which must then be approved by the academic council, the finance committee and the governing body.

Within the IoT sector, a rigorous procedure is also in place, of a different kind, to win approval for new course proposals. As well as gaining the approval of internal institutional bodies, new courses need to satisfy the requirements of Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) and in some circumstances the approval of the HEA.
Thus, while the institutions enjoy a high degree of academic freedom in relation to curricula and course design, this is conducted within control parameters which seek to ensure the quality of what is being proposed, and the legitimacy of need for such courses.

Teaching Methods

In the case of research masters, each student each student has a principal supervisor, who is an active and successful scholar in the relevant area, and who has primary responsibility for the overall management and supervision of the student’s work and progress.

Progression of Students

Holders of a Masters degree, either taught of research, can progress to Doctoral studies.


There is a long tradition of higher education engaging with enterprise in the area of research. There are opportunities for students to engage with enterprise as part of their studies, and in come cases the student may conduct some or all of their research as part of an in-company placement. Relations between employer bodies such as Irish Business Employers Council (IBEC) and the universities have become much closer in recent years. University-industry links have become much more integral in higher education. Grants and sponsorship from firms has become much greater than formerly. Many individual firms of a certain type maintain close links with particular departments and faculties. Some firms hold orientation sessions with final year postgraduates in some disciplines. IoTs usually have developed close links with employer bodies in their regions, and some interchange of staff experience takes place. Career guidance personnel tend to have close liaison with employers, and maintain lines of mutual communication between industry and the tertiary institution, to their mutual benefit. There is very little tradition of external employers participating in the assessment of students, but such personnel form part of accrediting committees and peer review teams in areas where this is productive. Representatives of external stakeholders participate in the governing authorities of tertiary institutions and bring perspectives from such agencies to bear on the deliberations of the bodies.

Engagement with enterprise is one of the core pillars of the National Strategy for Higher Education and detailed framework and range of recommendations to ensure the system continues to respond to enterprise needs is being implemented. This includes structured employer surveys and interaction, increased work placement opportunities, staff mobility into enterprise and a renewed focus on generic skills. Progress on the implementation of the Strategy is regularly updated on

Student Assessment

In the case of research Masters, students are generally examined solely on their research thesis.  A taught Masters may also include examination on relevant subjects.


As academically autonomous institutions, the universities have the authority to set the course content of their courses, to decide the methods of student assessment and to certify the awards given. They have the right to confer their own certificates, diplomas and degrees. These awards are recognised by the State. Where relevant, professional bodies, such as the Medical Council and the Law Society, recognise qualifications in their ambit of responsibility subject to their fulfilling certain requirements for professional recognition.

The Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) enjoys the same degree of academic freedom as the universities in determining its standards, and conferring its academic professional awards. In the Institute of Technology (IoT) sector, each institute, following agreement of its quality assurance procedures with QQI validates its own programmes. Additionally each institute, under delegated authority, under the Qualifications Education and Training Act 1999, grants its own awards. Most IoTs have delegated authority to make awards up to Level 9 (Masters) of the NFQ and about half of them have delegated awarding powers up to Level 10 (Doctorate). PhD degrees for the remainder are granted by QQI.