If you wish to enter or return to third-level education and you are over 23 years of age, Irish third-level colleges have places for mature students. You will have to consider the costs of fees and maintenance, depending on whether you are going to do a full-time or a part-time course. Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for free fees. If you are planning to study full-time as an undergraduate, you may be eligible for a student grant. (If you are applying for an undergraduate course and you have already completed an undergraduate course, you are not eligible for either a student grant or free fees.)
If you are applying for a postgraduate course you will have to pay fees, unless you get a partial student grant. You will also have to pay fees if you are intending to study part-time or do a distance learning course. If you do have to pay fees you may be able to get tax relief at the standard rate.
The website studentfinance.ie has detailed information on the range of grants and funds for students in further and higher education.
If you satisfy certain criteria and attend courses approved by the Department of Education and Skills, you may qualify for help with fees and maintenance throughout the period of your studies. Since 2011, a single Student Grant Scheme is in operation. The following support schemes that applied to mature students have been merged into this single scheme:
Since 2011, mature students who get student grants no longer automatically qualify for the higher (non-adjacent) rate of grant. From 2012 onwards, new postgraduate students will not qualify for a full student grant.
If you are getting an unemployment, one-parent family or disability payment, the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) allows you to study at second and third level without losing your benefits. You must meet certain criteria to be eligible for the BTEA. If you are studying part-time you may be able to keep your benefits under the Back to Education Programme.
Since 2010, people who are getting Back to Education Allowance and those on Post-Leaving Certificate courses who are getting VTOS allowances are not eligible for student support grants. However, this does not affect any entitlement they may have to exemption from college fees or the Student Contribution so they should still complete a grant application.
There are several other funds available to support you in third-level education. These include:
Fund for students with disabilities
If you have a disability, you may be entitled to some financial support. The Department of Education and Skills administers a special fund that helps students with disabilities during the period of their studies.
Student Assistance Fund
The Student Assistance Fund is for students who, having started a third-level course, experience financial hardship and, therefore, may be unable to continue their studies. Applications for funding should be made by the individual student to the access/disability officer in their college. The Fund is administered on a confidential, discretionary basis.
If you plan to study abroad, you may be eligible for a student grant from the Irish Government. A range of approved undergraduate courses in the UK and in other European Union states are covered. Find out more about European education programmes.
Under the Student Grant Scheme there are no age limits for the student grants for studying in another EU state but it must be your first undergraduate course.
Generally each college has a mature students officer who can provide information about supports for mature students.
The Special Fund for People with Disabilities
You need to contact the Student Counsellor or Disability Support Officer at the college of your choice when you are registering.
If you are a citizen of the European Union, you have the right to go to any other EU state to study. The EU has published a series of guides about living, working, studying and moving within the EU which will explain your rights. You can then make the most of the opportunities available to you. If you are interested in studying in the UK, for example, you should contact the British Council in order to get full information on the courses available and the application procedures for each course.
If you are interested in studying outside of the EU, you should get in touch with the Irish embassy/consulate in that state for further information.
Since 2012-2013 on, Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) handles all new applications for student grants. Renewals of existing grants are handled by the VEC or local authority that issued them initially. From 1 July 2013, VECs will be replaced by Education and Training Boards (ETBs).
Back to Education Programme
For the Back to Education Allowance or other strands of the Back to Education Programme, apply on form BTE1 (pdf).
Contact the mature students officer or the admissions officer at the college of your choice.
Make your online application for a grant through SUSI.
For the Back to Education Programme, send the form to the office that deals with applications from people on your particular payment. These offices are listed on the back of the form.
For the Special Fund for People with Disabilities, apply to the Student Counsellor or Disability Support Officer at the college of your choice.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.