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Brian Howard

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Department of Education and Skills

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  Brian Howard

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Entry Routes to Nursing in Ireland and UK

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Entry Routes to Nursing in Ireland and UK

Friday, April 08, 2016 

Entry Routes to Nursing in Ireland and UK

Nursing is a rewarding job and a popular career choice - one that will always be needed. Nurses are hugely in demand at the moment, both in Ireland and abroad, however, getting into Nursing continues to be competitive for school leavers.


The main entry route to Nursing is based on CAO points. To study General Nursing in Ireland, the points requirement in 2015 ranged from 390 points (at Letterkenny IT) to 455 points (at University of Limerick).

In Dublin City University for example, 430 points were required last year and not all on this points score were offered places. 430 points equates to at least a C1 grade in six subjects taken at Higher level in the Leaving Certificate. 

With first preferences for Nursing up significantly again this year, Points are set to increase for 2016/17 college places, making already competitive course entry even more so for students. So what other options are there?

FET /QQI Route

A popular alternative route to Nursing is through further education. Following the Leaving Cert, students can undertake a one-year FET /QQI Level 5 Certificate in Nursing or Pre Nursing Studies. Those who achieve a minimum of five distinctions are entitled to apply for places reserved for FET/QQI graduates on several third-level nursing degree courses.

Be aware though, competition is still tough when taking this route and FET Applicants are not guaranteed a place, even with all distinctions in their course modules. You can check the CAO quota of places reserved for QQI FET/FETAC applicants on Nursing courses here.

According to the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland:

Specific Level 5 and some Level 6 further education and training certificates awarded by QQI (which replaced FETAC, HETAC & NQAI) may be considered as an entry route for standard code applicants to nursing/midwifery. These are:

In all cases, applicants must have achieved distinctions in five components including:

  • Anatomy and Physiology (5N0749 / D20001)
  • Nursing Theory and Practice (5N4325)
  • Human Growth and Development (5N1279) or Biology (5N2746)

You should be aware that while you may meet the eligibility requirements, there is no guarantee that you will be offered a place. Due to a very small number of places available, a random selection system is operated by the CAO.  See NMBI for more 

Leaving Cert Applied 

Students with LCA cannot go directly to nursing through the CAO system, but may be eligible to apply for nursing as a mature student with certain qualifications or relevant experience. You may be able to take the FET route, but will be required to have Maths. It is vital to check with individual course providers.



Another alternative is to travel and enrol in a Nursing degree programme in the UK. There is a good supply of nursing places in UK universities for Irish students with Pre-nursing FET awards. In the region of 500 students take up this option annually.

Two UK entry routes are available to students from Ireland:

  • Go straight to university in the UK from secondary school, using the UCAS points you acheive based on your Leaving Cert grades (This equates to at least a C1 grade in six subjects taken at Higher level in the Leaving Certificate (Each subject is similar to an AS-Level)
  • Use your FET qualification results - QQI Level 5 in Nursing Studies in Ireland, is equivalent to UK NVQ Level 3 (Note: Some UK colleges will now accept FET qualifications but, only where the FET Nursing Studies programme has a Maths component).

It is important to note that each UK university has different entry requirements so applicants should check the minimum requirements for the particular universities they wish to apply for. 

University of Bradford - Nursing Entry requirements for 2016 & 2017:

Please note - changes for 2017 entry!

A Pass in the QQI Level 5 Nursing Studies programme with 30 credits at Distinction and the remaining 90 credits at Merit or above. (Note: University of Bradford no longer accept FETAC Level 5 Maths)

Applicants must also have GCSE English Language, Maths and Biology/Science Grade C or above, or the equivalent from the Irish Leaving Certificate (Ordinary Level).

Anatomy and Physiology from the FETAC programme can be used for GCSE Biology/Science requirements, so long as Merit is achieved.

300 UCAS tariff points to include 2 A levels (or equivalent) - So applicants would need to get at least two Irish highers at C2 or above and the rest of the UCAS points can be made up of any combination of qualifications on the tariff PLUS GCSE English Language, Maths and Biology/Science grade C or above or the equivalent from the Irish Leaving Certificate (Ordinary).

See: Detailed Entry Requirements here

NOTE: Some university Nursing Courses in the UK are BN (Bachelor of Nursing) e.g.Bachelor of Nursing, Southampton, whilst some are BSc in Nursing (Bachelor of Science). (The diploma in Nursing is discontinued since 2013).

Application for Nursing in the UK is via UCAS and should be made by 15th January each year. It is also worth noting that some UK Universities have 2 - 3 intakes per year for Nursing in September, January and March.

NOTE: Not all UK colleges accept FET/QQI awards - It is advisable to e-mail the admissions office of the university you wish to apply to and check if they will accept a particular FET /QQI award. Include a link to the QQI award you are pursuing and the modules it covers.

Numeracy, Literacy  and Equivalence Tests for Nursing

Some FE colleges in Ireland have established links to UK universities. The university tutors travel from the UK to the college to interview people (you typically have to do a Numeracy and Literacy test as part of this process). They will get back to you swiftly to confirm you have a conditional offer. After you receive your results, you’ll get another confirmation if you have an unconditional offer.

London Southbank came to Dublin last year to conduct interviews and held Health per-Registration Numeracy & Literacy tests in advance of their interviews. Only those candidates who passed the tests were interviewed - only 40 passed out of 100 candidates who sat the tests!  

If you are considering this route to Nursing, it is advisable A). to check whether or not Numeracy and Literacy testing is used as part of the selection process for the college that interests you and B). If it is, get some practice in! It is possible to find practice tests and information and improve your scores.

The University of Bradford is not currently requesting Irish students to sit Numeracy and Literacy Tests. University of Salford and Edgehill both require you to take Numeracy and Literacy tests. Their websites have a link to practice /equivalency tests [See Edgehill].

See also: Passing the Literacy Skills Test (Yellow book), Passing the Numeracy Skills Test (Blue book) available from Amazon UK.

Student Nurse Abi Taiwo found that doing FET / QQI pre-Nursing gave her a great foundation for the UK university Nursing course that she was accepted for, as she already had started Nursing Studies. The first year covered similar topics to those she’d already experienced in her FET course, although in more depth.

Details of UK universities offering nursing degrees to Irish students are available here

Maths and English - For candidates planning to use the FET /QQI access route to Nursing in the UK, the Maths element of FET /QQI qualifications can be an issue. Students are required to have at least one of the following to apply to study nursing in the UK:

  • A Grade C or above in Leaving Certificate level Maths OR
  • A FET /QQI Pre-nursing qualification that has a Maths module


What financial supports are currently available to Nursing Students from Ireland studying in the UK?

  • Tuition fees are covered for students within the EU by the NMC (Nursing & Midwifery Council).
  • Irish students can still apply for a SUSI maintenance grant, whic is means-tested – more here
  • The level of funding granted is less than for other courses, as you are not paying tuition fees

Currently, no fees apply for Nursing in England. However, it looks likely that 2016 will be the last year where fees for nursing in the UK are free as this is set to change in 2017. A cost of £9,000 approx will apply. But, a student loan system applies [See below].

Scotland is still free - course fees are covered by the SAAS.

In Wales - fees apply - approximately £3,800 (University of Glyndwr don't offer a degree in Nursing, but have Health related courses) 

It’s worth noting that students from Ireland can study in Scotland for free, as course fees are covered by the SAAS – more here

Undergraduate Student Loan System in the UK

The EU Student Fee loan system is now in place in the UK. The loan is not repayable until you are in Full-time employment and earning a salary above St£21k /27k Euro. Once you leave university, you only repay when you are earning above £1,750 a month (equivalent to £21,000 a year) and then it's fixed at 9% of everything you earn above that. Earnings mean any money from employment or self employment and in some cases earnings from investment and savings. Loan repayments can be as low as 6.50 per week – 0.01% interest for a max of 30 years. [More]

It is worth noting that Irish students can additionally avail of the SUSI maintenance grant, as well as the student loan.

Q. Is the NHS bursary funding in England available to Irish students

No - The NHS bursary funding in England is no longer available to Irish students, due to the residency requirement. The NHS bursary is only available to students who have been living in the UK, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man for 3 years, up to the start of the academic year. It is likely that all bursaries will be cut from 2017 and all nursing students will have to apply for a student loan instead. 

See also How much will it cost?


Application for Nursing in the UK is via UCAS and should be made by 15th January each year. Useful links to help with finding Undergraduate Nursing Programmes at UK Universities are  available here.

UCAS Application for 2016 entry closed on January 15th.

Recruitment in Ireland for UK Nursing Programmes

Some UK nursing programmes come to Ireland to recruit:

  • The NHS are regularly recruiting in Ireland and attend nursing recruitment fairs etc.
  • YourWorld Healthcare are a specialist healthcare recruitment agency and will be hosting roadshows in Ireland throughout the year. Check the website for more info - Dublin office YourWorld Healthcare
  • Kings College Hospital London also recruit 2 to 3 times a year in Ireland. They conduct the interviews usually in Dublin, Galway, Cork, Limerick


The Nursing Board (Ireland) FAQs 

I was not successful in getting onto a pre-Registration Nursing/Midwifery programme through the CAO. Can I go to the United Kingdom and study nursing/midwifery there?

Generally speaking courses leading to registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) UK as a general nurse or midwife will meet the minimum EU requirements for direct registration, but you are strongly advised to double check this with the NMC.

If you complete an education programme in General Nursing or Midwifery in a European Union member state you may be entitled to direct registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland (NMBI) if the programme meets the minimum requirements stipulated in European Union (EU) legislation, namely EU Directive 2005/36. The best source to check if an education programme in the United Kingdom meets these requirements is the NMC, the equivalent body to NMBI in the United Kingdom. NMC website 

You will find further information for applicants who have completed a nurse education programme in an EU country who wish to apply to register with NMBI here website 


  • NHS salary starting point is £21,000 (€27k)
  • Salary rates in Ireland start at 27K with overtime 33K
  • Ireland and England agency pay rates are similar at present, somewhere around the £30-£40 an hour

The CareersPortal Team