Education System in Ireland: Learn About National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) Levels Image
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Education System in Ireland: Learn About National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) Levels

Yocket Editorial Team
13 mins read

Ireland has a well-revered education system, with five of Ireland's universities placed in the top 500 universities on the QS World University Rankings. Located at the edge of Europe, Ireland is an island nation with distinct characteristics. The country is popular for its rich history, culture, and vibrant nightlife, making it one of the most visited tourist attractions in Europe.


Also, Ireland is one of the more attractive study abroad destinations for many international students. Academic excellence, internationally recognized degree courses, bustling campus life, abundant opportunities in the research sector, etc., are some of the features making the Irish education system one of the best in the world.


Table of Contents:


  1. Highlights of the Education System in Ireland

  2. National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ)

  3. Study Levels in Ireland

  4. Educational Institutions in Ireland


Highlights of the Education System in Ireland


The education system in Ireland is structured to overcome the barriers coming in the way of overall development of students. The institutes and universities in Ireland have been working to promote Ireland as one of the top study destinations for the international students. They have a goal to provide top-quality education at a comparatively low cost.


Following are some of the highlights of the Irish education system:


  • According to the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2014, Ireland’s higher education system is ranked in the top-twenty globally.
  • Education in the country is mandatory for children from the ages of 6 to 16. 
  • Ireland in 2018 invested a total of $9921 per student in primary to tertiary institutions.
  • The admission intakes in Ireland are similar to other European countries.


National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ)


Let us learn in detail about the Irish National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ), its purpose, and how it benefits the learners. Learning about NFQ levels will help you better understand the qualifications and training systems in Ireland. NFQ is of immense significance as it has helped to make the education system in Ireland one of the best.


What is the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ)?


The Irish National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) was established in the year 2003. It is a 10-Level single national identity developed by the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland to measure all learning achievements and to describe levels of educational qualifications in Ireland. The Irish NFQ system is compatible with the ENIC-NARIC (European Network of Information Centres/National Academic Recognition Information Centres) that facilitates academic qualifications recognition throughout Europe and in the nations like the USA, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia.


Why is NFQ important for international students?


International students are advised to assess their qualifications using the Irish NFQ (National Framework Qualifications) prior to applying for a course in Ireland. It helps them compare and contrast qualifications easily to plan their studies, training, and progress in their career. NFQ helps international students choose the right course. The information about the awards given after a course completion can help you ascertain if the course meets your need for education.


Quick Glimpse of Higher NFQ Levels:






Bachelor’s degree general 

3 years (medicine, dentistry, veterinary science, and more)


Bachelor’s degree honours

3-4  years


Master’s  degree


Postgraduate  diploma

1-2  years


1  year


Doctoral  degree

4+  years


The NFQ is also used to compare Irish qualifications with foreign qualifications. Thus, the international students travelling to Ireland with qualifications gained abroad can use the NFQ to get these qualifications recognised.  


NFQ Levels


Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) has the responsibility to maintain and develop the framework. National Framework of Qualifications acts as a benchmark for graduate courses standard offered by the universities and Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) in Ireland. There are 10 different levels in the framework ranging from Certificates at Level 1 to doctoral level degrees.


The following table provides an overview of all the 10 NFQ levels, the degrees or certifications awarded at each level, and how NFQ level compares to European Qualification Framework (EQF).


EQF level

NFQ level

Major award types



Level 1 Certificate


Level 2 Certificate



Level 3 Certificate
Junior Certificate



Level 4 Certificate
Leaving Certificate



Level 5 Certificate
Leaving Certificate



Advanced Certificate

Higher Certificate



Ordinary bachelor's degree



Honours bachelor's degree
Higher Diploma



Master's Degree
Post-Graduate Diploma



Doctoral Degree
Higher Doctorate


Thus, the NFQ level sets the standards of Irish education qualifications. The NFQ measures and compares the learning standards and achievements of qualifications and help students in moving ahead from one study level to another. Since the standard followed under NFQ is at par with that of the European Qualification Framework (EQF), the degree obtained by students gets accepted globally.


Study Levels in Ireland


The Irish government focuses to impart quality education for all. Thus, it has made the education obligatory for children from age 3 to 16 or till the time a student completes his/her 3 years of post-primary education. The Irish education system & structure is quite similar to that of the UK. Education in Ireland is broadly divided into four different levels including primary, second, third-level, and further education.


Below are the four education levels in Ireland


  1. Primary Education (including pre-primary)


Children in Ireland don’t have to attend school until they are 6 years old but they can start attending school following their fourth birthday. The entire Irish primary school curriculum is child-centred and emphasis is laid on the overall development of children. Primary schools in Ireland are mostly owned by religious communities or groups but are funded by the State. It covers the initial 8 years of the education period.


  1. Post-primary Education


The level 2 education in the country includes a 3-year junior cycle at the age of 12 followed by a 2-year or 3-year senior cycle. During the final 2 years in the senior cycle, students take one of 3 programmes - the established Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme, or the Leaving Certificate Applied. Each of the programmes has a specific objective where the established Leaving Certificate is used to allocate a seat in an educational institution in Ireland. Second-level education in Ireland is provided by different types of post-primary schools.

  1. Higher Education


This begins at NFQ level 6 and the Third-level includes many sectors focused on making quality learning accessible to all learners. The level 3 higher education comprises universities, institutes of technology, and the colleges of education getting funds from the State. Also, there are numerous independent private colleges offering bachelor, master, and doctorate level courses to both, national and international students. It includes degree and non-degree programmes.

  1. Further Education and Training


Further education includes education and training taking place post-schooling. Programs like Post-Leaving Certificate courses; Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme, etc. are included at this level. It also includes the study programme for the unemployed, for early school-leavers, self-funded evening adult programmes in level 2 schools.


Educational Institutions in Ireland


Higher education in Ireland is imparted through universities, colleges, and institutes of technology. There are a total of 7 universities, 7 colleges, 15 private higher education institutions, and 14 Institutes of Technology (IoT) in Ireland. Also, there are some third-level private institutions located in Ireland offering specialized education in areas like business studies, art, and design, law, medicine, to name a few. International students can choose to study in the best universities based in the country.


Types Higher Education Institutions in Ireland:


  • University
  • College
  • Institute of Technology
  • School


Some of the Best Universities in Ireland for International Students:



Thus, NFQ has helped advance the education system in Ireland to the next level making the country one of the top destinations for international students. Ireland gives international students many good reasons to study in the country.


We hope the information in the article has helped you better understand the education system in Ireland. If you are considering to study in Ireland and are on look-out for professional help, then Yocket Premium can be the solution.

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