Universities and colleges in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has three universities, two university colleges, six further education colleges and an agri-food and land based college, all of which offer opportunities to study for and attain various higher education qualifications.

The Open University

The Open University (OU) offers a route into higher education for anyone who wants to learn. It is a distance learning (courses delivered online) and research university.

There are no entry requirements to study although you may require certain qualifications for some courses. Over half of OU undergraduate students begin their study without standard higher education entry level qualifications, for example, one A Level or less.

The OU has nearly 3,600 students enrolled in Northern Ireland supported by 169 tutors and 46 staff based at the headquarters in Belfast.  It is the UK's largest academic institution.

It is a global leader in the development of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in the UK via ‘FutureLearn’ . A partnership between the OU and other universities including Queen's University, providing free, open, online courses to global audiences.

The OU was in the top half of higher education institutions in the most recent UK Research Excellence Framework (2014). 

More information on the OU in Northern Ireland and the courses offered is available on their website:

Queen's University Belfast

Queen's University Belfast, often called 'Queen's' offers academic degrees at various levels and across a broad subject range, with over 300 degree programmes available.

It has over 23,000 students attending, including 1,700 international students from over 80 countries and over 150,000 alumni in more than 120 countries. 

Queen's is a member of the Russell Group of 24 leading UK research-intensive universities, alongside Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College London.

Queen’s is the ninth oldest university in the UK and has more than 250 buildings.

More information on Queen's and the courses it offers is available on it's website:

Ulster University

Ulster University has four campuses in Northern Ireland located in Belfast, Coleraine, Magee College in Derry/Londonderry and Jordanstown as well as one online site and branch campuses in London and Birmingham.

It is also an international university with more than 2,000 international students from over 80 countries and Alumni from 121 countries.

It provides a broad range of career-focused undergraduate and postgraduate courses, across a wide range of disciplines. 

It is also a top UK university for providing courses with a period of work placement and is a leading university for sport in Ireland and the UK.

The 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) identified Ulster University as one of the top 25 per cent of UK universities for world-leading research.

More information on Ulster University as well as the courses on offer is available on it's website:

St Mary's University College

St Mary's College is a university college in Belfast. The institution is located on the Falls Road and has about 60 academic staff and 1,100 students.

It is a specialist and distinctive Catholic Higher Education Institution which specialises in the education of teachers and also offers a Liberal Arts degree programme. Their academic community works within a framework of religious, academic, civic and professional values and integrates Christian faith and learning. They place the greatest emphasis on respect for the dignity of the human person and on promoting excellence.

The institution offers courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels for teacher education, especially for a Catholic ethos, including a PGCE for Irish Medium Education.

More information on St Mary's University College and the courses offered is available on it's website:

Stranmillis University College

Stranmillis University College is a university college of Queen's University Belfast. The institution is located on the Stranmillis Road, Belfast and has about 700 students.

Its main purpose is to provide teacher training however, in recent years in recognition of the multi-professional approach that is critical to the education of children, they have expanded their undergraduate portfolio to offer a wider range of professionally related academic programmes - the BA in Early Childhood Studies and BSc in Health, Physical Activity and Sport.  

These professional degree programmes complement and support core elements of the BEd programme and the PGCE in Early Years Education and make sure that students going to Stranmillis have the opportunity to learn and develop competences in a multi-professional environment.

More information on Stranmillis University College and the courses offered is available on it's website:

Higher education in further education colleges

Northern Ireland’s six further education (FE) colleges operate across over 40 campuses and through over 400 outreach community locations. Each college offers a number of Higher Education programmes ranging from GCSEs and A levels to BTECs, HNCs, Foundation degrees, Apprenticeships, Degrees and other specific training programmes.

The FE colleges are the main providers of vocational and technical education and training in NI and play a central role in raising levels of literacy and numeracy and in up-skilling and re-skilling through a broad range of courses. 

Studying in the colleges offers a range of routes for further progression. The introduction of the Qualification Credit Framework (QCF) means that there are more flexible ways to develop progression pathways from entry level through to undergraduate and post-graduate level.

More information on the FE colleges and the courses offered is available on the their respective websites (links above).

College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise - CAFRE

CAFRE has three campuses in Northern Ireland which deliver a specific range of agri-food and land based courses.

It has about 1,600 students across the campuses where you can study for Foundation and/or Honours Degrees in agriculture, horticulture, food or equine studies. 

CAFRE also provides post-graduate courses from Graduate Certificate to Masters in Business for Agri-food and Rural Enterprise at its Loughry Campus.

More useful links

Share this page


Your comments are anonymous and can’t be responded to - if you would like a reply, use the feedback form.

Your comments
Plain text only, 750 characters maximum. Don't include personal or financial information.