Thriving Industries of the North of Ireland


Northern Ireland traditionally had a strong industrial economy, focusing on linen production and shipbuilding. At one point Belfast possessed one of the world’s largest shipyards. These shipyards built the world’s most famous ship; The Titanic, most recently celebrated through the recent completion of Titanic Belfast, the world’s largest Titanic visitor center. The center allows visitors to learn about the thriving industry, city and people who made the now notorious Titanic. Although, this industrial economy is a much prided part of Belfast’s history, it is very much in the city’s past.

The North of Ireland now has a developed manufacturing and engineering industry and is home to many companies specializing in areas such as; aerospace & defense, electronics, construction and consumer products. This is one of the largest sectors in Northern Ireland accounting for 11% of employment.

Additionally, Belfast has made a name for itself in one of technology’s fastest growing areas, financial technology. A combination of a highly qualified workforce, competitive operating costs have helped to encourage and support this growth. As a result many financial services giants such as Citi, The Allstate Corporation, Liberty Mutual and Chicago Mercantile Exchange have thriving offices here.

Another rapidly growing industry is the creative industry, specializing in cultivating creative talent for commercial purposes. This involves areas such as film and television production, performing arts, music, visual effects and design. In particular, recent years have seen high profile television productions, such as Game of Thrones and The Fall, film in Northern Ireland.

Academic Differences You Will Face While Studying in Northern Ireland

One of the less exciting things you will learn while studying abroad is that another country’s academic system can be very different, sometimes in ways you may not expect. This is a little (or maybe a lot) confusing at first. But don’t worry you WILL get used to it. Here we have complied a list of some of the biggest academic differences you will encounter as an American studying in Northern Ireland, plus some tips on how to deal with them.


  1. Different Class Structure – Lessons in Northern Irish Universities will typically take the form of lectures and tutorials/seminars. Lectures are formal presentations given by subject experts to large groups of students. Tutorials and seminars involve much smaller groups of students (typically 8-15) who discuss and apply topics introduced in lectures, under the guidance of a tutor. Typically, a student may have two lectures and one tutorial per week for each module taken.
  2. Different Workload – Generally, you will not be continually assessed, as you have been in the US, while studying in Northern Ireland. Greater weighting is put on final exams and it is rare to get homework that counts towards your final grade. For example, your grade may be made up of a final exam (70% of your grade) and a paper (30% of your grade).
  3. Extra Credit is Basically Unheard of in Northern Ireland – If students fail an exam they have to repeat it in the summer time. There are no options for extra credit to bring up your grade, so make sure you are fully prepared the first time you sit your exams!
  4. The Grading System is Really Different – In Northern Ireland exam results will usually be given as percentages rather than letter grades. You will also hear people talking about degree classifications (a 1st, a 2:1, a 2:2 etc) ;
    GPA Module Mark (%) Degree Classification
    4 70+ First class honours (First)
    3.7 65-69 Upper-second class honours (2:1)
    3.3 60-64 Upper-second class honours (2:1)
    3 55-59 Lower-second class honours (2:2)
    2.7 50-54 Lower-second class honours (2:2)
    2.3 45-49 Third class honours (Third)
    2 40-44 Third class honours (Third)
    1/0 0-39 Fail

    Therefore, a 70% is considered to be really excellent work and really difficult to achieve. So, if you are sitting on a 1st or a 2:1 well done! You are doing really well, so don’t be disappointed if you are used to getting higher percentages at home.

  5. Picking Classes – Universities in Northern Ireland focus on depth over breadth of study. Usually, there are compulsory classes students must take specific to their field of study. Students do not pick a major while studying at university, they decide what they want to study and apply for \a specific degree before they even arrive to university. Therefore, students’ classes will be very specific to their chosen degree and they cannot take more general, unrelated classes or change majors while at university.
  6. Don’t Skip Classes! – The size of your lectures might be a lot larger than what you are used to at home, depending on what classes you take. This sense of anonymity can make skipping lectures a lot more tempting, because who would notice if you’re only 1 of 100 students? Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you lecturer notices or not because in the long run it will be you not your lecturer who is suffering when you are failing exams.
  7. Independent Study – You may feel like you have less hours of class then what you are used to. This is because a bigger emphasis is placed on independent study. So even if you don’t have that much time scheduled for inside the classroom, you still need to organize yourself, making time for reviewing your lecture notes, additional reading and preparing for tutorials.
  8. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help – Sometimes bigger classes can leave students feeling more reluctant to ask questions or say if they don’t understand something. If you don’t want to ask a question in front of a large hall filled with people, don’t worry, you can arrange to met lecturers during their office hours.

IAS Guest Blogger #1: Preparing for Study Abroad

Becca Hankla is the first in a series of guest bloggers for IAS.
Read more about becca here.Becca Hankla Bio pic

All summer I’ve been hearing this from friends and family: “So when do you go back to school?”

And I’ve been so excited to say, “Well, actually, I leave for Ireland on September 14!”

Which is often accompanied by a look of puzzled excitement, and once I get past that, they begin to tell me what I have to do. From these wonderful people I have compiled a checklist approximately a mile long. For exemplary purposes, I provide page one, items 10-17.

  • Save money for travel.
  • Visit my school friends.
  • Get rain boots.
  • Get a good raincoat.
  • Spend time with my parents.
  • Hang out with my sister.
  • Catch up on my American Netflix before it goes away.

Some of these are simple things that I need to do, like buy a raincoat. I am not a fan of being soaked and cold. Some other things are not so simple, like hanging out with my sister when she’s busy, I’m working two jobs, and she starts school in three weeks. And of course, there’s the American comforts like a mini-marathon of “Melissa & Joey” on Netflix. (Seriously, check it out. It’s fantastic.)

I’ve also crossed some things off my list.

Get a passport. (That was a hairy encounter and if you ever want to die from laughter, I’d love to share).

Register for classes.

Figure out which suitcase to use.

Tell Queens University of Charlotte that I’m not going to be there this fall. (You cannot imagine how many different offices are worried that I haven’t registered for classes and have sent panicked e-mails to me.)

And the list continues. But it will all get done in the mere 50+ days I have left.

So why Ireland?

Most people don’t understand that this is my dream. On September 14, I will depart my beloved America, Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, for the Emerald Isle. My trip will be different from that of my eighth-generation ancestors May Ella and James Dougherty, who left Ireland on a ship in 1851, but no less monumental. I will finally see the places that I have been dreaming of since I was little. I will touch the history I have studied for years. I will finally see Ireland.

And I will get to travel. My best friend, who studied abroad in Florence, says that I just have to try the gelato in Rome. My history professor tells me that the Alhambra in Spain is truly an historical experience that I cannot forgo. My high school French teacher says I need to practice what she taught me and visit Nice or Paris. Plus, my love of “Downton Abbey” says a trip to Highclere Castle is a must.

Just writing that makes me want to get packed and go right now. But there is a flip side to this coin that is begging to be mentioned.

I’m scared.

I currently attend Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina. It’s a tiny private school, boasting a mere 1,869 undergraduates on 95 of the most beautiful acres in the Myers Park neighborhood area of Charlotte. In addition, it is exactly 218.07 miles from my driveway in Atlanta, Georgia.

In September, I will be a fully enrolled student at Queens University Belfast in Northern Ireland. In contrast to my tiny private school, my new Irish University is just a tiny bit bigger, with an enrollment of 17,000 students. I guess the phrase is “little fish, big pond”? In addition, the distance between me and my driveway will no longer be a three and a half hour drive, but rather a distance of 3,888 miles, according to Google.

So it’s safe to say I’m scared. Although I am comfortable in my skin, I get homesick sometimes. I love to talk with my parents on the phone. My 13-year-old sister is one of my dearest friends. And I’m going 3,888 miles from them. I’ll be away from my university home where I have professors who know me, friends I’ve bonded with, and my campus tour job and worship leader position. Everything I know about college is about to change.

There are two sides to this adventure. I can be scared of all the change, the newness, the distance, and the culture difference. I could call and cancel my trip right now. But I think back to one thing that tells me I have to do this. I look at the picture of my 10-year-old self. I think about what she wants. She wants to go to Ireland. She wants to see the castles, eat the food, develop a slight accent, and sing the Irish music. Am I supposed to the let the fears of an almost 21-year-old destroy her dreams? Am I supposed to risk the adventure of a lifetime in order to have a semester of comfort? The answer to this question is no. The answer is heck no. The answer is “shut up insecurities!” I am going to Ireland. I’m a little scared. But that’s okay.