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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Types of Higher Education Institutions


7.Higher Education

7.1Types of Higher Education Institutions

Last update: 27 November 2023

Types of Higher Education Institutions

Ireland’s higher education system is principally a binary system with universities and institutes of technology.  In 1997, the Universities Act was passed, the most significant piece of university legislation since the State was founded. For all seven universities in the State, the Act set out the objects and functions of a university, the structure and role of governing bodies, staffing arrangements, composition and role of academic councils and sections relating to property, finance and reporting. The governing authorities are required to see that strategic development plans are in place, and that procedures for evaluating teaching and research are in place. The HEA has an overseeing role on such plans and quality assurance procedures. The legislative framework preserves the academic freedom of the universities and respects the diverse traditions and institutional autonomy of each university. The Institutes of Technology Act, 2006, creates a similar relationship between the Institutes and the HEA as that between the HEA and the universities. It provides for greater institutional autonomy, improved governance and a statutory guarantee of academic freedom for the IoTs.

University Tertiary Education

There are seven State-supported universities in Ireland. The National University of Ireland has four constituent universities at Dublin, Cork, Galway and Maynooth which are largely independent under the Universities Act of 1997. The University of Dublin with its single college, Trinity College, is the oldest established university (1592). The other two established universities are the University of Limerick and Dublin City University. St. Patrick's College Maynooth is a small Pontifical University recognised by the Vatican. It confers degrees in Canon Law, Philosophy and Theology.

University College Dublin (UCD)

University College Cork (UCC)

National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) 

National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM) 

Trinity College Dublin (TCD)   

University of Limerick (UL)

Dublin City University (DCU)

Recognised Colleges of the National University of Ireland:

Institute of Public Administration

National College of Art and Design (NCAD)

Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI)

Shannon College of Hotel Management

Milltown Institute of Philosophy and Theology

Non-University Higher Education

During the 1960s Ireland built up a strong binary higher education system. Since that time the non-university sector has grown and is regarded as being highly successful. There are now 14 Institutes of Technology (IoTs), including the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), located throughout the country.

The other Institutes of Technology are located in Athlone, Carlow, Cork, Dundalk, Galway-Mayo, Letterkenny, Limerick, Sligo, Tallaght, Tralee, Waterford, Blanchardstown and Dun Laoghaire. Most of these Institutes evolved from Regional Technical Colleges, having been awarded their new titles in 1998.

The institutes provide a comprehensive range of courses including craft and apprentice programmes, higher technical and technological education through two-year Higher Certificate, three-year Ordinary Bachelor Degree, and four-year Honours Bachelor Degrees. The institutes also provide a range of postgraduate programmes at Postgraduate Diploma, Master’s, and Doctoral level. The programmes of study offered in some institutions may include a period of work outside the institution as part of the course of study. The institutes also play an important role in providing for recurrent educational needs by way of part-time and evening courses, as well as catering for continuing professional education. Details of all courses in Higher Education appear in the EU Student Handbook.

No formal distinctions exist regarding qualifications from the non-university and the university sectors. Ordinary Bachelor Degrees in both universities and IoTs are awarded at Level 7 in the National Qualifications Framework, while Honours Bachelor Degrees are awarded at Level 8.

The full-time students in the Institutes of Technology by main fields of study in 2011/12 were proportioned as follows: Social Science, Business and Law 26.3%, Humanities and Arts 11.1%, Engineering, Manufacturing and Construction 18.7%, Science 15.9%, Health and Welfare 13.9%, Services 11.4% and other 2.7%. The proportion of full-time students at the different course levels was: Diploma and Higher Certificate (Level 6) 8.5%; Ordinary Degree (Level 7) 36.3%; Honours Degree (Level 8) 51.1%; postgraduate (Levels 9 and 10) 4.1%.

Institutes of Technology:

Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) 

Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) 

Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT)  

Dun Laoghaire of Art, Design and Technology (DLIADT) 

Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) 

Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT)

Institute of Technology Blanchardstown (ITB)

Institute of Technology Carlow (ITC)  

Institute of Technology Sligo (ITS)   

Institute of Technology Tallaght (ITT)   

Institute of Technology Tralee (ITT) 

Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LIT)

Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT)

Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT)  

Key Differences between University  Higher and Non-University Higher Education

Student Profile and Programme Levels

Although most IoTs have delegated authority to award up to Level 10 PhD, in practice the student profile shows that the majority of students are undergraduates

In 2011/12, the proportion of undergraduate students in the institute of technology sector was 94% undergraduate to 6% postgraduate. In the university sector, the picture was different with 75% undergraduate and 25% postgraduate students.

Research Activity

Although research funding in Ireland is competitively awarded and is open to State funded higher education and research institutions to apply - in practice the majority of research activity and funding goes to the university sector, with 98% of Science Foundation Ireland funding, 80% of research infrastructure funding and 95% of research council scholarships going to fund research activities in universities.

The majority of research funding is channelled through agencies from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.  The more applied research funding connected to enterprise and regions is channelled through Enterprise Ireland and institutes of technology engage more in this type of activity.  

Governance and Autonomy

Although legislation in 2006 transferred the institutes of technology to the remit of the Higher Education Authority and ceded greater autonomy to these institutions, governing boards are still approved by the Minister with the Chairs nominated and appointed by the Minister for Education and Skills.


Each institute of technology, following agreement of its quality assurance procedures with Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) validates its own programmes. Additionally each institute, under delegated authority, under the Qualifications and Training Act, 1999, grants its own awards. Most IoTs have delegated awarding powers up to Level 9 (Masters) on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) and about half of them have delegated awarding powers up to Level 10 (Doctorate). PhD degrees for the remainder are granted by QQI. Only the Dublin Institute of Technology has similar powers to the universities which have full authority to devise and conduct their own examinations and to confer academic awards.

Other Higher Level Education

Colleges of Education

Colleges of Education are devoted predominantly to teacher education of primary and post-primary teachers although, in recent years, some of the colleges offer general degrees and postgraduate studies. The colleges are privately owned, but state-supported. All of the colleges of education are closely linked to universities either as Recognised Colleges or as Associated Colleges. Accordingly, their academic and quality assurance procedures come within the university framework and follow its patterns. These colleges benefit from State support and free student undergraduate fees. Their academic awards are made by the relevant university. Their governing, management and staffing procedures are university-approved.

DCU Institute of Education

Mary Immaculate College, Limerick

Froebel College of Education

Marino Institute of Education (MIE)   

St. Angela’s College of Education, Sligo

Institutes Linked to Public Service Careers

The Institute of Public Administration is the national centre for development of best practice in public administration and public management.

The Institute offers services in education, training, research and publications.

The Whitaker School of Government & Management at the IPA contains the education and research activities. The IPA is a recognised college of the National University of Ireland and offers accredited programmes at certificate, diploma, degree, higher diploma, masters and doctoral level.  There are undergraduate degrees in Arts and Business Studies and at postgraduate level there are Master of Arts and Master of Economic Science degrees.  The Doctorate in Governance programme is jointly offered with Queens University Belfast.  The programmes are available by lecture or through distance education.

The Institute has a specialised Research Division which conducts focused studies on public sector management. The Institute provides a specialised library service and publishes books and periodicals dealing with Irish Government and public administration. It also organises seminars and lectures on public affairs.

The Institute conducts training activities in areas such as general management, finance, human resource management, leadership, personal skills and so forth. At a sectoral level, specialised training programmes and consultory services are provided to Local Government, the Health Service and the Civil Service. The Institute’s International Services Unit organises programmes for delivery abroad particularly in Eastern Europe and Africa.

Other State-aided Institutions

National College of Ireland (NCI)

Garda College

Military College

Pontifical University of Maynooth

St. Patrick’s College, Thurles

St. Patrick’s Carlow College

Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM)

Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies