Access to education

Republic of Ireland

Country Report: Access to education Last updated: 30/11/20


Irish Refugee Council Visit Website

Asylum-seeking children can attend local national primary and secondary schools on the same basis as Irish children. This has been made an express right under the Reception Conditions Regulations.[1]

The Irish Refugee Council and other organisations raised concern about access to education for children living in emergency accommodation. In November 2019, the Newstalk radio station reported that up to 30 children living in emergency Direct Provision accommodation have not been attending school. The station reported that there were over 100 people living in emergency direct provision at The M Hotel in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan. Over 20 of them are children of all ages – and for the past two months, none of these children have been attending school.[2] The Irish Refugee Council, in their report ‘Reception Conditions Directive: One Year On report’ called on the Minister for Education to ensure children in emergency centres are enrolled in school, and it said the use of Bed and Breakfasts and hotels to accommodate protection applicants should be phased out as soon as possible.

When asked, in December 2019, about the issue of children in emergency accommodation not receiving education, the Minister for Education stated that children of international protection applicants are required to receive an education within a three month period following their arrival in this State, allowing for school holiday period, and that the Department of Education has seconded an official to the Department of Justice and Equality to deal with any queries that schools who are enrolling children from accommodation centres may have.[3]

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.[4]     

Vocational training is now available to protection applicants who have successfully received permission to access the labour market. Such an applicant may access vocational training on the same basis as an Irish citizen.

There is no automatic access to third level education in Universities and Colleges, or to non-vocational further education courses such as post-leaving certificate courses. Protection applicants can access third level education and non-vocational further education if they can cover the costs of the fees, get the fees waived or access private grants or scholarships.

In order to ameliorate the hardship associated with the high fees which place third level education beyond the reach of many young people in the Direct Provision system, a pilot support scheme was introduced in September 2015, following the publication of the Working Group Report on the Protection Process. The scheme provides support in line with the current Student Grant Scheme to eligible school leavers who are in the international protection system (other than those at the deportation order stage) and who are either: asylum applicants; subsidiary protection applicants; or leave to remain applicants. The eligibility requirements are stringent and mean that the vast majority of students do not satisfy the conditions set by the Department of Education. As a result, uptake has been very low, despite clear interest in further and higher education.[5] Concerns were raised that the pilot scheme is so restrictive in nature that it may be very difficult to access.[6] Most notably, in this respect, is the requirement that the applicant must have spent five years in the Irish education system. The Irish Refugee Council recommended that the criteria be amended to reduce the five-year requirement.[7] The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) also recommended that the pilot support scheme for free fees be altered to remove the criterion of five years as this presents for many an insurmountable barrier to accessing affordable third-level education.[8]  For the academic year 2019-2020, the scheme continued. The Irish Refugee Council welcomed an amendment to the Scheme which reduced from five years to three years the number of  required years education in the Irish school system. This is similar to the residency requirement of the statutory-based Student Grant Scheme operated by Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI).

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. This makes accessing third level education prohibitive for the majority of protection applicants.

A number of Irish Universities have taken steps to improve access for protection applicants. A total of seven out of the eight Irish universities offered full-time scholarships. Eight of the 11 institutes of technology also offer scholarships or access support.[9] The Irish Refugee Council’s Education Fund, using donations from members of the public, makes grants to support access to higher education. In the academic year 2019-2020 the Fund gave grants to 65 people in 16 counties.

As regards access to education and vocational training for adults, for protection applicants English language programmes are available but access often depends on the location of the Direct Provision centre. There are local based initiatives such as the SOLAS Orientation and Learning for Asylum Seekers programme in Galway and Mayo, the CREW project in Carlow and the Refugee Access Programme in Dublin.[10]


[1] Regulation 17 Reception Conditions Regulations 2018.

[2] Newstalk, Up to 30 asylum seeking children receiving no education at centre in Carrickmacross, available at:

[3] KiildareStreet, 3 December 2019, available at:

[4]  Separated Children’s Services, Youth and Education Services.

[5] Irish Times, ‘Asylum seekers to receive student grants for first time’, 28 August 2015 available at:

[6]  See e.g., Access to Education and the McMahon report, available at:

[7] RTE, ‘Third level access scheme for asylum seekers extended’, 7 September 2018, available at:

[8]  IHREC, Ireland and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on Ireland’s combined sixth and seventh periodic reports, January 2017, available at:

[9]  Irish Refugee Council, The Education System in Ireland: A guide for people seeking asylum, those with refugee status, subsidiary protection or permission to remain.

[10] For further information see European Commission, ICF study, Labour market integration of asylum seekers and refugees, Ireland, April 2016.


Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation