Hunting for a ‘civic and technological university’ for Dublin

Last week the Hunt report was leaked, and it will be formally launched tomorrow (I can’t say I’ve received an invitation to the event); but yesterday it was already being implemented by a number of institutions who have let it be known that they intend to make a joint bid for recognition as a new ‘technological university’. The four in question are the Dublin area institutes of technology: the Dublin Institute of Technology, Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown, and the Institute of Technology Tallaght. In confirming their intentions, the four institutions declared they intended to create ‘what will be the university of the future – a civic and technological institution providing a world class experience for students, develop graduates who will respond to the needs of society, and will stand with the leaders among the technological universities across Europe and worldwide’.

It appears that the four institutions are basing their plans on the following statement in the Hunt Report (page 90):

‘Internationally, a technological university is a higher education institution that operates at the highest academic level in an environment that is specifically focused on technology and its application. When, over time, the amalgamated institutes of technology demonstrate significant progress against stated performance criteria, some could potentially be re-designated as technological universities. Amalgamated Institutes seeking such redesignation should pursue a developmental pathway based on delivering against these performance criteria, which are aimed at promoting institutional mergers and ensuring advanced institutional performance within their existing mission. The Technological Universities that emerge from this process should have a distinct mission and character: this will be essential to preserve the diversity that is one of the strengths of Irish higher education.’

In summary, Hunt recommends that institutes of technology should come together in regional clusters, and that any such cluster could seek to become a ‘technological university’. It uses the latter term as if it had an established international meaning that is separate from the more general designation of ‘university’.I am unaware of any such recognised nomenclature or designation anywhere. However Hunt appears to be suggesting that the culture and ethos of the existing institutes could be preserved if a ‘technological university’ could be recognised as a different type of entity. The four institutions in question appear to have latched on to this quickly and are preparing to initiate the process that might lead to such an outcome, apparently (they hope) in a very short timescale.

I do not myself have any fundamental objection to a re-designation, but would have doubts about whether a distinction between a ‘university’ and a technological university’ is a viable one. There is already room for considerable diversity of mission within the term ‘university’. While the plan of the four institutes should be taken seriously and received and debated positively and constructively, it might not be a good idea to rush this process, and the idea of a separate designation of ‘technological university’ is, to my mind, a doubtful one.

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14 Comments on “Hunting for a ‘civic and technological university’ for Dublin”

  1. Perry Share Says:

    If nothing else, it needs to be recognised and remembered that the IoTs are not confined to teaching and research in the fields of ‘technology’. For example, in IT Sligo, even though there are very substantial schools of science and engineering, by far the largest number of students is to be found in the School of Business and Humanities, studying everything from fine art to tourism business to early childhood education. My concern is that too much emphasis on ‘technology’ will negatively impact on these crucial vocational and educational areas. I suspect that the situation is similar in most of the ITs. Development of the sector needs to predicated on what it actually does, rather than an ideologically driven obsession with STEM subjects.

    In terms of the concept of ‘technological university’, I would imagine that this is reflective of the experience in Australia, where various ITs become ‘universities of technology’ – such as Victoria UT, Queensland UT and, of course, Royal Melbourne IT which became RMIT University! VUT, interestingly, has now dropped ‘technology’ from its name, being just VU. Many of these UTs were developed out of regional mergers that involved smaller, specialised colleges. From my (now distant)memory, the UTs were generally seen in a fairly similar light to our ITs, places that had a strong vocational orientation that tended to be more innovative than many of the ‘traditional’ universities. All of them had/have very strong offerings in business/creative media/human services.

    It will certainly be interesting to watch what happens in this space!

  2. Cormac Says:

    Gosh, they were quick of the mark weren’t they? Clearly, some had an idea of what was in the Hunt report and have been planning in advance.

    Re ‘technological university’, I seem to remember that Sweden has several that have a very good reputation.

    I’m not a big fan of all this ‘amalgamation cluster’ stuff. DIT is a very large college as it is – will amalgamating with 3 other colleges really make it easier to govern? Besides, I would have thought amalgamating with somthing that is different – i.e. a university – would make more sense


    • I know there are ‘technology universities’, or ‘universities of technology’, in some countries; but the claim by Hunt that this is an established category with its own (and different) characteristics is nonsense.

  3. Colm Harmon Says:

    the Australians have various institutions that were born as amalgamations of technical colleges but have morphed into mainstream Uni’s – including their branding. The T in RMIT in Melbourne and UTS in Sydney is Technology (of course, that is true of MIT too!!) but the mission of the institutions are no different than what you would observe in any University.

    • Perry Share Says:

      I worked in one such entity in Oz – former Institute of HE – that was merged into a uni. Just about the first thing the new institution did was to drop its ‘sub-degree’ (diploma) programmes. I suspect that there is a fear that this will happen here to, if the ITs turn themselves into universities.

      In fact what is happening is that the ITs are already being forced by the market to shift the attention away from Level 6/7 to level 8 qualifications. Rather than maintaining the former ‘ladder’ system whereby students could move from cert to diploma to degree, they are now bringing in ‘parachute’ systems, where a student can opt to leave a level 8 course after, say, 3 years, with a level 7 qualification.

      From a student point of view, the fundamental difference between universities and ITs today is about access – geographic access (they’re local); cultural access (they are relatively accessible and user-friendly) and educational access (they articulate much better with prior learning, accredited (eg FETAC) and experiential). These are things that must be maintained and which differentiate the ITs from traditional universities. One IT is far more important in providing access to formerly excluded groups than all the university ‘access’ programmes put together!

      There are other aspects that are very important – such as the widespread use of work placements. These are cost-intensive and this aspect needs to factored in to unit costing models.

      I fear that the reality of what ITs are about is not well known, especially to so-called education correspondents in the print media. Perhaps the release of Hunt will stimulate some sort of informed debate about the role and nature of the ITs and the universities.

  4. Rachel Says:

    “A world class experience for students”. Does this phrase have a meaning? I agree that what our students experience must command some of our attention, but can an experience be “world class”?

  5. Simon Quinn Says:

    The re-designation of Institutes of Technology (IoTs) is a political football rather than an educational issue. The largest IoTs (DIT, Waterford IT and Cork IT) lobbied for years to gain university status and some of the history is worth recounting.

    In particular, Waterford fought a very high profile battle to become a university and it became a hot political issue in the region. Waterford wanted to leave the IoT sector in order to gain the perceived advantages of a university. The battle of Waterford was prolonged, expensive and ultimately fruitless. The usual series of reports was commissioned and then kicked to touch.

    In late 2006, Mary Hanafin appointed Dr Jim Port to assess the case for a ‘University of the South East’. The Port review ensured that the issue was put into abeyance for the May 2007 election. Port submitted his report in July 2007 but the government did not publish it until February 2008 (the Hunt report has probably languished on the same shelf as did the 2006 OECD report!).

    The Port report is an entertaining read in light of recent developments and is available at this link:
    http://www.education.ie/servlet/blobservlet/application_waterford_iot_designation_university.pdf

    Frustration with the process even back then was evident as Port included a plea that “it would be helpful if the Government made a clear statement of its intentions with regard to potential future designations to avoid institutions and officials expending time on unsuccessful applications”. The report was highly equivocal and provided a menu of various courses of action.

    Port was particularly worried about the prospect that “the Government could be faced with several further “me-too” applications by other IoTs, and, if these were successful, the risk of dilution of the mission of the IoT sector”. In fact, the applications by DIT and CIT for university status did dilute the Waterford case.

    In April 2008, Waterford IT took out full page newspaper advertisements and highlighted strong support from senior business, academic, political and civic figures. In May 2008, the ‘University Task Group’ of Waterford Chamber commissioned a report from Deloitte consultants – it concluded that “the business case for re-designation of WIT to the University of the South East is overwhelming”.

    The issue of university status was eventually shunted (along with everything else) into the Hunt review that started in February 2009. Rather than some great strategic advance for third level education, the Hunt proposal for ‘technological universities’ is the outcome of a horrible political compromise.

    The Hunt report struggles to set down any substantial difference between a university and a ‘technological’ university. The mission of a technological university will be “based on career-focused higher education”. It will have an emphasis on provision from primary certificates at level 6 to degrees at level 8. However, technological universities will have involvement at level 9 (masters) and level 10 (PhD) “appropriate to their mission“ but the “major proportion of activity at these levels will be concentrated within the existing university sector”.

    The one part of Hunt that is clear about the technological university is the cost – it rejects any “basis for redefining staffing profiles, roles or pay structures in line with those in existing universities“.

    It is well known within the IoT sector that the ‘merger race’ to technological university status is well advanced and that the various Presidents engaged in a series of negotiations over the last few months. The Technical University Dublin (TUD) was first out of the traps and other groupings will shortly make announcements as merger mania becomes the educational fashion of 2011.

    In a classic zero sum game, all of the IoTs will become technological universities. I shudder to think of the amount of energy and resources that will be wasted on mass structural tinkering rather than educational improvement.

  6. Al Says:

    The Technical University concept is viable.
    It will need a tight focus and discipline to work.
    It could also be of potential use for high tech retraining and post qualification work for staff in our industries.

  7. Dan Says:

    Please, someone tell me that the acronym TUD is not being considered…

    As an aside, does no-one think that amalgamated institutions do not end up as core-periphery relationships. I once worked as a prof in a major, multi-campus city university in Canada – the students regarded the ‘ outlying’ campus in the suburbs as being in the boondocks

  8. Eugene Gath Says:

    My recollection is that NIHE Dublin and NIHE Limerick were originally set up as Universities with a “technological ethos” and certainly, up to the early 1990s in UL, interaction with industry was valued as much as (if not more than) internationally refereed publications. It would seem that both DCU and UL have now moved into the academic “mainstream” so it is hardly surprising that other places want to fill the role once held by UL and DCU.


    • I wouldn’t particularly agree that DCU has sought out the ‘mainstream’. It is still a much more ‘focused’ university that doesn’t have a lot of mainstream disciplines and that emphasises certain areas in particular. Limerick has gone a slightly different way, but that may in part be due to the pressures on it from the region, where it is the only university.

  9. Michael Says:

    The US system caters for all of the above with high impact research universities, state universities and local masters level universities. Why the hang-up on the word “university”? I completed undergrad in Ireland and a US masters in a masters level uni and a PhD in a large research University. The best learning experience by far, in my opinion, was in the masters level university that did offer PhD, but much fewer in number. This seems to me a niche positioning for the ITs with a university title. The “university” in the title is somewhat lost on me, MIT, CalTech and GA-Tech are all world class institutions and universities in their own right. Has the naming of these institutions become semantics and jostling around the word university? Is there academic snobbery in play? I would put it forward that given the size and impact of Irish Uni versus larger schools in mainland Europe, US and Canada that we are splitting hairs.


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