Third-level student fees and charges
Most undergraduate students attending publicly funded third-level courses do not have to pay tuition fees. Under the terms of the Free Fees Initiative, the Department of Education and Skills pays the fees to the colleges instead.
A separate annual charge is payable to colleges for the costs of student services and examinations – see ‘Student contribution’ below.
Charges for Post-Leaving Certificate courses (PLCs) operate under different rules - see our document on PLCs.
To qualify for free fees, you must meet criteria with regard to:
- Residence and
- Nationality and immigration status and
- Course requirements
You must have been living in an EEA member state or Switzerland for at least 3 of the 5 years before starting your course. The members of the EEA (the European Economic Area) are the member states of the EU, along with Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.
Nationality and immigration
You must also fulfil one of the following 6 criteria as regards nationality and immigration status in Ireland:
- Be a citizen of an EEA member state (see above) or Switzerland or
- Have official refugee status or
- Be a family member of a refugee and have been granted permission to live in the State or
- Be a family member of an EU national and have permission to live in the State, with a stamp “4EUFAM” on your residence card or
- Have been granted humanitarian leave to remain in the State or
- Have been granted permission to remain in the State by the Minister for Justice and Equality, following a determination by the Minister not to make a deportation order under Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999.
You must also fulfil all of the following 3 course requirements:
- You must be undertaking a full-time undergraduate course of at least 2 years' duration (or certain shorter courses in institutes of technology).
- You must be a first-time full-time undergraduate. However, students who already hold a Level 6 or a Level 7 qualification and are progressing to a Level 8 qualification on the National Framework of Qualifications may possibly be deemed eligible for free fees - you should check with the college providing the level 8 course. Also, you may be eligible for Free Fees, if you attend a course but did not complete it and are returning following a break of at least 5 years to pursue an approved course at the same level.
- In general, you must not be repeating the year because of failing your exams or changing course. This requirement may be waived if you repeat a year due to certified serious illness.
The undergraduate courses for which the free fees arrangements apply are courses in:
- Institutes of technology
- Publicly funded colleges of education
- National College of Ireland
- A number of religious education institutions
Free fees do not apply to courses in private colleges, whether they have Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) approval or not. The fact that a course is listed by the Central Applications Office (CAO) is not, in itself, enough to make it a free fees course.
Detailed information about assistance with tuition fees is available on studentfinance.ie.
If you do not qualify for free fees you may still be eligible for EU fee rates. EU fee rates are set by each individual third-level educational institution. You should contact the one you are interested in to find out about the EU fee rate and whether you qualify.
Some examples of when people might qualify for an EU fee rate are as follows:
- You originally qualified for free fees and are now repeating a year that you failed.
- You do not fulfil any of the 6 nationality and immigration status criteria listed above but have been tax resident for a number of years in an EEA member state or Switzerland. (However, as the third-level institutions are autonomous bodies, this is at the discretion of the institution concerned.)
Since September 2014, an Irish, EU, EEA or Swiss student who has spent at least five years in primary school or second level school in Ireland can avail of EU fee rates.
If you do not qualify for EU fees you can be charged non-EU fees. Each third-level educational institution sets its own fee rates. You should contact the ones you are interested in to find out more about their fees - see 'Where to apply' below.
In general, you will have to pay fees for a postgraduate course. However, you may get financial assistance under the Student Grant Scheme.
Postgraduates under the Graduate
Skills Conversion Programme, courses are free, full-time and intensive.
Most colleges charge an annual student contribution, formerly called the student services charge. It is also known as a registration fee and it covers student services and examinations. The amount of the contribution varies from one institution to another. The maximum rate of the student contribution for the academic year 2020-2021 is €3,000.
If you are getting Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) you may qualify for exemption from the student contribution. More information about the BTEA and the student contribution can be found in our document about social welfare payments and the student grant.
Student grants provide financial support to eligible students. There are 2 elements to the student grant - a maintenance grant and a fee grant. A maintenance grant is a contribution towards your living costs. A fee grant can cover:
- All or part of your tuition fees
- All or part of the student contribution
- Costs of essential field trips
If you have qualified for a maintenance grant, you will generally qualify for a fee grant.
If you do not qualify for a maintenance grant, but your family’s reckonable income is below certain limits, you may qualify for a partial fee grant. This means that you will either be exempt from 50% of the student contribution, or exempt from 50% of any tuition fees and all of the student contribution.
The Student Grant Scheme is described in our document on Grants for students in further and higher education.
You may be able to claim tax relief on tuition fees that you have paid.
Families who pay student contributions for more than one student in a year can
also claim tax relief on the second and subsequent contributions. Read more in
our document on tax relief
for third-level fees.
How to apply
There is no separate application for the Free Fees Initiative. Your eligibility will be assessed on the basis of the information you give when applying for a college place.
Where to apply
For information about fees contact the third-level educational institution of your choice.