Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now
Thursday 30 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C

FactCheck: Do Irish students really pay some of the highest fees in the world?

As tens of thousands await CAO offers, FactCheck examines how the financial burden awaiting them compares with students in other countries.


ALMOST 60,000 PEOPLE got their Leaving Cert results on Wednesday, and many are nervously waiting for the first round of CAO offers next week.

But how is the “student contribution” looking these days, and how does it compare to their scholarly counterparts in Europe and around the world?

After it was revealed recently that the top 28 third-level institutions in Ireland received €396 million in the fees last year, USI vice-president Jack Leahy told

We pay €3,000 fees. The ‘free fees’ refers to the tuition portion but the €3,000 is one of the highest fees in the world in third-level education.

Mariela in Dublin wasn’t sure about this and got in touch with TJ_FactCheck on Twitter to ask us to check it out.

(Remember, if you hear a big claim about where Ireland ranks in the world, email or tweet @TJ_FactCheck).

Claim: The fees paid by Irish third-level students are among the highest in the world
Verdict: Mostly TRUE

  • Ireland has the second-highest fees for undergraduates in Europe
  • Global data is relatively scarce, but reliable figures from the OECD indicate Ireland has around the 8th highest fees for undergraduates in a public university, in the world

The Facts

16/11/2011 USI Student Protests Mark Stedman / Mark Stedman / /

We asked Leahy for evidence to support his claim, and he directed us to this breakdown of fees within the EU, and provided information taken from the OECD’s most recent Education at a Glance report.

Let’s look around the neighbourhood first, and check out fees elsewhere in Europe.


FactCheck has previously dealt with the question of Ireland’s ranking within the EU for third-level fees.

According to the most recent report from the EACEA, the European Commissions’s education agency, student fees in Ireland are the highest in Europe except for the UK (excluding Scotland).

During the 2014-2015 academic year, the report found that undergraduates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland typically pay between €4,655 and €10,742.

In Scotland, students from Scotland and the rest of the EU do not pay fees, but students from the rest of the UK do.

So that’s only one place in Europe where undergraduate students typically pay more than in Ireland.

Rest of the World

Information here gets far more sparse than the EACEA’s excellent report on fees in Europe, but the source cited by Jack Leahy – the OECD’s Education at a Glance report – is about as good as it gets.

We downloaded the raw data from here (Indicator B2), and looked for rankings on undergraduate fees in public universities, since this is the cohort of students Leahy is talking about, and all our universities are public.

On these critera, information on fees was only included for around half of the 45 countries in the report.

Ireland and the UK weren’t among them, so we’ve simply included the €3,000 student contribution in our ranking and calculated an average UK contribution of €7,699.

The OECD data also includes figures in US dollars during the 2014-2015 academic year, so we’ve converted Irish and UK fees based on the exchange rate in mid-September 2014.

Here’s what we found:


Of the countries for which clear data was available, we rank 8th – above Israel and just below New Zealand.

However, the sheer amount of fees paid by students in a country is not necessarily the key statistic, here. We need to adjust for the average income in each of these countries, and see where fees are the biggest burden on annual income.

GDP per capita is an imperfect measure of wealth (it doesn’t take into account savings, assets, etc…), but for our purposes it’s a decent measure of how affordable the fees are in each country.


As you can see, as well as paying the highest average public university fees outright, students in the UK (excluding Scotland) pay the highest proportion of average income on university fees (21.5%).

In Ireland, that figure is 7.2%, placing us 10th in those rankings.


Postgraduate student fees protest PA WIRE PA WIRE

There are a whole lot of countries missing from those charts, and from the OECD data, and the methods for calculating students fees can be complicated – there are various grants and rebates in place in various countries, and so on, including to Irish students.

However, most of the major advanced Western nations are in there.

A fully comprehensive analysis of tuition fees in every country in the world (which does not exist, unfortunately) might add a couple of countries to that list, or drop Ireland down the rankings a place or two.

Either way, it his highly likely we are ranked roughly among the 10 countries with the highest fees for undergraduate students in a public university, in the world.

Therefore, Jack Leahy’s claim – that we have “one of the highest fees in the world” – is Mostly TRUE.

This is allowing for some ambiguity in the exact meaning of “one of the highest”, as well as a cautionary note over the lack of fully complete and comprehensive data.

Send your FactCheck requests to

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.