Why Dublin is third-level heaven

Dublin has been named the world’s 15th best city for students – but their attachment to it goes beyond the ranking criteria

Photo: Dara Mac Dónaill

Photo: Dara Mac Dónaill

Dublin has been ranked 15th in the Best Student Cities survey carried out by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS). The researchers looked at student mix, quality of living, employer activity and affordability. Dublin scored highest on the diversity of its student population and lowest on affordability of both tuition fees and the cost of living. But none of these criteria quite captures what students love about it.

Lucy Spirit, a UCD student on Erasmus from the University of Exeter, is originally from Belgium. She chose UCD as her host university because of its international reputation and its new student and sports centre. “The feeling that everyone is your neighbour, that’s my favourite thing about Dublin. The stereotypes about Irish people being very friendly have been true. Diversity and coming from somewhere different is embraced as a positive thing over here,” she says.

Paris was named the top student-friendly city this year, but a lack of warmth there made Rebecca Smyth want to come home to Trinity from her Erasmus year at Paris Institute of Political Science. “Dublin is definitely a friendlier city; Paris is hard going. Everything is a power struggle, and if you’re nice to someone it’s almost a sign of weakness.”

Dublin’s atmosphere cannot be matched, according to James Brady, a law student at UCD. “It’s a really exciting city for students. There’s a great mix of old Irish culture and history, as well as a new modern Dublin that looks towards its European counterparts.” He spent last year on exchange in this year’s third-ranked city, at the University of Singapore, and came back with a new appreciation of Dublin. “Singapore is a great place to make money, but it doesn’t have the culture that’s present in Dublin.”

David Power, a student of computer science and linguistics at Trinity College, is studying in Glasgow. He thinks cities abroad have more to offer. “There’s a really big sense of getting involved in Glasgow. The societies seem better funded, practically all of them are free, and some have much better facilities. It’s all run by students, and they just seem bigger than at home.”

The criteria of the QS survey do not include nightlife, but “socialising” crops up in Dublin’s favour among the students who spoke to The Irish Times. Lucy Spirit believes it’s part of what makes Dublin great. “Part of Irish culture is going out and having a drink, meeting new people and listening to music. It’s so open, and I think that’s really brilliant,” she says.

DIT student-union events vice-president William Meara believes nightlife and social events are key parts of the student experience. “My main priority is ensuring students are having a good time at an affordable price. When people come to Dublin, especially from the country, they expect it to be mental.”

Ultimately, the main concern of students when choosing universities is the quality of education they’ll receive. Although Dublin scored 77 out of 100 in this sector, Brady believes we lag behind in some respects: “I found Singapore more challenging, and classes had a higher standard expected in terms of preparation and participation.”

Smyth had a very different experience. “Education really is top-notch here. You’re encouraged to develop the ability to think critically, to write critically. In France it’s very much rote learning and regurgitation. It was like doing my Junior Cert again. I found it frustrating and suffocating.”

A very high proportion of the students we spoke to said the high cost of living in Dublin, and the severe shortage of accommodation, particularly this year, aren’t attractive, especially to international students. Brady says his all-inclusive stay in Singapore cost as much as his year’s accommodation in Stillorgan. Cost, however, is about the only area in which Dublin scored poorly. The students we spoke to say they couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

Eats, hangouts and fleas: Dublin students’ secrets

The eatery: BóBó’s Gourmet Burgers, Dame Street and Wexford Street, D2. With a 15 per cent discount for students, and chalkboard deals, there’s not much more you can ask of a burger joint.

The watering hole: Grogan’s, South William Street, D2. Gloriously out of place on this supertrendy street.

The club: Twisted Pepper, Middle Abbey Street, D1. Not the hipster venue it was, but it usually has a stellar line-up of events, and a great cocktail menu.

The hangout: Accents Coffee and Tea Lounge, 23 Stephen Street Lower, D2. Late-night cafe popular with nondrinkers by evening and with everyone else by day.

The shops: Dublin Flea Market, Co-op, Newmarket Square, D8. Trinkets galore on the last Sunday of every month.
Tiger Stores, 33-39 Nassau Street and GPO Arcade. A cross between Ikea and a €2 shop, this Danish chain combines frivolous spending with useful goods.

This article was originally published in the Irish Times Weekend Review on November 23rd 2013.

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