Access to education

Republic of Ireland


Irish Refugee Council

Asylum seeking children can attend local national primary and secondary schools on the same basis as Irish citizen children.

The City of Dublin Education and Training Board Separated Children’s Service has offered educational services and support to separated children since 2001. The most prominent feature of the service is their Refugee Access Programme which is a transition service for newly-arrived separated children and other young people ‘from refugee backgrounds’. The programme provides intensive English instruction, integration programmes and assists young people in preparing to navigate the Irish education system.  Additionally, the service provides support after transition, including study support, outreach, a drop-in and a youth group.1     

There is no automatic access to third level education (education in Universities and Colleges), or vocational training.  Asylum seekers can access third level and vocational training if they can cover the costs of the fees, get the fees waived or access private grants or scholarships.  Basic instruction on English and computer skills are offered to residents of some Direct Provision centres. Universities have some flexibility on whether to charge refugees third level non-EU fees or EU fees. Both are expensive but non-EU fees are much more expensive. Some universities also don’t accept GNIB cards as a form of identity which also creates practical restrictions for refugees.

In 2016 a number of Irish Universities have taken steps to improve access for refugees, for example, NUI Galway announced the four new inclusive scholarships would be available for people who are asylum applicants or have status including permission to remain.2 In December 2016 Dublin City University (DCU) was also designated as a University of sanctuary in recognition of a range of initiatives demonstrating a commitment to welcoming refugees and asylum seekers into the University community and fostering a culture of inclusion for all.3 The initiatives include fifteen scholarships for undergraduate or postgraduate studies.

The dispersal system of Direct Provision also impacts upon the provision of education for children in the asylum procedure. The Irish Times reported that young asylum seekers  who have been awarded scholarships for further education were at risk of losing their scholarship places after RIA informed them that they would be dispersed to another accommodation centre.4

As part of the reform of the protection process within the Working Group, the Minister for Education, Jan O’ Sullivan stated that she ‘intends on ensuring that asylum seekers will be able to apply for third-level grants for access to third-level education. In the current system asylum seekers are treated as international students meaning they face a higher fee which makes it prohibitive for them to further their education at the third level.5

Third-level student grants will be available to asylum seekers for the first time from September 2015 under changes announced by Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan. The changes were recommended by Judge Bryan McMahon in his recent Working Group report on the Direct Provision system and will be rolled out on a pilot basis initially. To avail of the grants, the students must have been spent five years in the Irish school system, obtained their Leaving Certificate, have been accepted on a post-Leaving Certificate or undergraduate course, meet the definition of an asylum seeker and have been in the asylum system for a combined period of five years.6 There are concerns that the pilot scheme is so restrictive in nature that it may be very difficult to access.7

In practice very few applicants could access the supports given the restrictive criteria and in 2015 only 2 out of 37 applications for assistance were successful.8 NGOs like the Irish Refugee Council, NASC and Doras Lumni try to assist students where they can. The Irish Refugee Council recommended that the criteria be amended to reduce the five year requirement.9 Unfortunately the criteria remain unchanged.

On 3 June 2016 the Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton announced his intention to continue the pilot student support scheme for asylum seeking children for the year 2016/2017. This decision was taken following a review of the 2015 support scheme.10

  • 1. Separated Children’s Services, Youth and Education Services, available at:
  • 2. NUI Galway, Inclusive Centenaries Scholarship Scheme Announcement, 17 June 2016, available at:
  • 3. DCU, DCU designated as a University of Sanctuary, 21 December 2016, available at:
  • 4. The Irish Times, Young asylum seekers with scholarships ordered to move, Sinead O Shea, 30 August 2014, available at:
  • 5. The Journal, ‘Third-level grants could be open to asylum-seekers next year’, 31 August 2014, available at:
  • 6. The Irish Times, ‘Asylum seekers to receive student grants for first time’, 28 August 2015 available at:
  • 7. See e.g., Access to Education and the McMahon report, available at:
  • 8. The Irish Times, No asylum in Ireland’s education system, 25 October 2016, available at:
  • 9. The Irish Examiner., the Irish Refugee Council: Reform aid scheme for asylum seekers students, 27 August 2016, available at:
  • 10. Department of Education and Skills, Supports for Students in the Protection System to Continue, 3 June 2016, available at:

About AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti