Creating ‘Technological Universities’ in Ireland

The Irish government has published the Technological Universities Bill 2014, and with it proposes to re-cast the Irish higher education sector. This is part of a new framework which was heralded in the Hunt Report in 2011 (the National Strategy for Higher Education) and which has been confirmed as government policy subsequently. Under this policy it was suggested that where two or more current Institutes of Technology merge, and where they satisfy certain criteria, they could become ‘technological universities’; the suggestion in the Hunt Report being that this is an established international type of university.

The legal instrument to give effect to all this is to be the new Bill, which is described as follows in the explanatory note accompanying it:

‘The Long Title of the Bill provides that the purpose of this legislation is to provide for the merger of Dublin Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology Tallaght and Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown to form the new Dublin Institute of Technology and to provide for other institutes of technology to merge. The purpose of the Bill is also to provide for the establishment of a technological university and for the designation of institutes of technology merged under the Act as technological universities.’

As this note suggests, the Bill puts the cart some distance before the horse, because it first provides for the merger of three existing Institutes of Technology in the Dublin area, under the name of the largest of these, Dublin Institute of Technology. It then sets out terms under which other clusters of Institutes may be merged. The fact that DIT is given a special chapter in the Bill tells us that this particular merger has already been finalised and will proceed.

The Bill then sets out thee process and criteria for the establishment of a merged set of Institutes (for which the new DIT automatically qualifies) as a ‘Technological University’, subject to certain conditions. These conditions will be specified by the Minister for Education by order, but under section 28 must take account of the following:

(a) the provision of programmes at all levels of higher education with particular reference to the National Framework of Qualifications, and the breadth and orientation of those programmes to reflect the skills needs in the labour force,
(b) the profile of learners at the time of application to include; (i) a minimum of 4% of full time equivalent student enrolments in honours degree programmes or above to be enrolled in postgraduate programmes; (ii) a combined minimum of 30% of all enrolments to be in flexible learning programmes; professional or industry based programmes; or mature learners;
(c) the provision of high quality research and innovation activities with direct social and economic impacts for the region of location of the institution, with the capacity to support programmes and doctoral training in a minimum of three fields of knowledge/study at the time of application;
(d) evidence of a high level of engagement of the institute with business, enterprise, the professions and other related stakeholders in the region within which the institute operates,
(e) the profile of the staff of the institute, with particular reference to the qualifications of the teaching staff to include a minimum of 90% of full time academic staff to hold a postgraduate qualification with a minimum of 45% of full time academic staff to hold a doctoral qualification or terminal degree appropriate to their profession at the time of application,
(f) the quality of educational provision of the institute, with particular reference to quality assurance procedures, curriculum development informed by the needs of enterprise, and programme development,
(g) the current and planned activities of the institute to enhance its internationalisation relating to teaching, research, staff and student mobility and collaboration, and
(h) a high standard in the overall management and governance of the institute concerned, including the establishment of properly integrated and effective academic governance structures sufficient to enable the institute to deliver the objects and functions of a technological university …

The Bill then sets out the process to be followed in the case of any application to become a Technological University, which will involve in particular the setting up of an advisory panel. If this panel recommends the establishment, the Minister may then proceed with the appropriate order. There are also provisions for the expansion of Technological Universities through the inclusion of other third level institutions.

Section 50 of the Bill then sets out the proposed ‘objects’ of a Technological University, as follows:

(a) to provide and maintain a teaching and learning environment of excellent quality offering higher education at an international standard;
(b) to provide for the broad education, intellectual and personal development of students, equip graduates to excel in their chosen careers and enable them to contribute responsibly to social, civic and economic life in innovative and adaptable ways.
(c) to achieve academic excellence in research and support the exploitation of intellectual property and technology and knowledge transfer.
(d) to support entrepreneurship, enterprise development and innovation.
(e) to support the development of a skilled workforce.
(f) to promote inward and outward mobility of staff and students between the Technological University, business, industry, the professions and the wider community.
(g) to serve their communities and the public interest by- (i) supporting the delivery of local, regional and national economic objectives and making a measurable impact upon local, regional and national economic development, businesses and enterprises; (ii) fostering close and effective relationships with local, regional, national and international stakeholders, including relevant local authorities and regional assemblies, and enterprise partners. (iii) enriching cultural and community life; 82 (iv) promoting critical and free enquiry, informed intellectual discourse and public debate within the Technological University and in the wider society; (v) promoting an entrepreneurial ethos;
(h) to provide accessible and flexible learning pathways for students from a diverse range of backgrounds and to provide programmes and services in a way that reflects principles of equity and social justice and promotes access for all citizens in their region;
(i) to confer degrees and other qualifications;
(j) to utilise or exploit its expertise and resources, whether commercially or otherwise
(k) to provide directly, or in collaboration with other institutions of education, facilities for university education, including technological and professional education, and for research.
(l) to develop international collaborations and partnerships.

There will no doubt be considerable interest in this legislation, which will change fundamentally the Irish higher education system. The new framework is essentially the result of political lobbying by certain institutes which have argued that, for reasons relating to their achievements but also relating to local economic development needs, they should be given university status. Previous assessments of such cases on traditional criteria for university status have failed. This new framework is based on the rather questionable assertion in Hunt that there is an established concept of a ‘technological university’, and that this can use different criteria from those that apply to existing universities.

It is also based on the interesting understanding that a cluster of institutes, none of which individually could make a successful claim for university status, should be more eligible as a group; an understanding that could fairly easily be challenged. As I have argued elsewhere, if, say, Waterford Institute of Technology is not eligible to be a university, the case does not become more convincing because you have added Carlow Institute, which by every yardstick is a much weaker institution.

However, in the end this new framework will be driven by political rather than academic considerations. What impact this will have on the university system and its global reputation remains to be seen. It should perhaps be said that there is a good case for considering some institutes for university status; but whether this is the best way of looking at this is, at least in my view, highly questionable.

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27 Comments on “Creating ‘Technological Universities’ in Ireland”

  1. Cormac O'R Says:

    I agree with some of the points you raise Ferdinand, but I would suggest that the contrast between DIT and IT Blanchardstown is surely greater again than that between WIT and IT Carlow.
    Also, I can see a political argument for a university of the southeast, in terms of arresting the brain-drain of students from the region to Dublin (who never return) and in terms of trying to attract industry to the region – in fact such a move would be in line with the much-ignored National Spatial Strategy.
    I can’t see the benefit of amalgamating DIT and two other Dublin colleges, to themselves or to anyone else…

    • Yes, I agree – the WIT/Carlow is not a unique example; though I would still be more supportive of WIT getting university status than for this odd merged institution being a technological university. As for Dublin, IT Blanchardstown is not viable; and that’s the political imperative here. However I absolutely agree that this merged combination makes no sense either.

      • Dan Says:

        In what way is ITB not viable. It’s student numbers, running costs and effect in one of the fastest growing areas of Dublin would suggest otherwise. How do you come to this conclusion?

        • Greg Foley Says:

          The majority of its Level 8 programs are in the very low CAO point category. No matter what people claim, CAO points are a reasonable measure of academic ability and commitment. ITB is just not away somewhere like ITB can survive as a Level 8 provider is if it takes students from Dublin-based universities. Do we want that even if it were to happen? The Level 8 market is saturated – in my view of course. Universities need students and there aren’t enough to go around.

          • Greg Foley Says:

            Sorry that came out a bit garbled – phones!

          • Conor Buckley Says:

            i completed successfully a Level 8 course – Baccalaureate in Theology & Arts at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. The poins requirement was 350 but that degree was bloody hard work. This is a case where the points *do not* reflect academic ability. Points are about bums on seats. The more demand, the more points are required. When I applied for PDGE (H.Dip) NUI used the same CAO system. Maynooth had a high point requirement as it was most popular. I got in on random selection even with 68% in 2nd Year. The PGDE was, to pout it politely, notwhere near as academically rigourous as my degree course.

          • Greg Foley Says:

            I have no doubt that people with ‘low’ points can go on to excel at university. But in my experience, CAO points are a reasonable marker for the overall level of ability and commitment in a class. If a course consistently attracts people with very low points (sub 300) – as ITB does – I believe that the standard will be adjusted downwards to match the students. There is no objective standard out there for degree programs.

          • Irish in USA Says:

            @GREG: CAO points are based on the volume of applicants to that particular program versus the available places. I personally graduated from an IoT with an honours degree, looking at the CAO points in my subject area today, my CAO points total compared to last year’s requirements would show I would have met all but two universities. That was not the case in my leaving cert year. Post graduation I moved to California, I subsequently attended graduate school at a world renowned university with a world class professor. My IoT degree gave me a foundation that many others in my research group from top universities around the world didn’t have. What my IoT degree didn’t provide me with was the confidence I should have had. The reason was, I had subconsciously in Ireland subscribed to the snobbery surrounding University versus IoT in Ireland. I soon shook that off and did fine. Stop with the falling standards and quality of students nonsense. Students that don’t make the grade, fail, many did in my undergrad. That’s what external examiners are for. Let’s remove this “glass ceiling” because it leaves the current university system cheerleaders looking Iike they are fearful of what could be achieved by a combined IoT with a university title. The objection that the quality and standards are not there is false, as IoT are offering Bachelors, masters and PhD degrees currently. There is no inflation of degrees or institutions in play just inflation in how great the Irish university system believes they are nationally & globally.

  2. Al Says:

    Perhaps the next stage can be a Cosmoversity…..
    After the cheerleading dies down and more sober assessments develop, the more important announcement this week was the release of the review of the apprenticeship system.
    Can it be integrated as an educational model within higher education?

  3. James Fryar Says:

    Hmmm … is this not a case of history repeating itself. NIHE’s, anyone? The original remit of the International Study Group on Technological Education back in the 1980s was to investigate the formation of a National Technological University. Instead, they paved the way for the NIHE’s to become DCU and UL. Now it would seem we’re back to the NIHE’s, just using the phrase the Group warned against using … that the NIHE’s couldn’t be called ‘technological universities’ because they offered non-technical disciplines.

    I love how the Irish government rejects ideas, only to repackage them, hope we’ve forgotten, and then offer them as new ideas some 20 years later.

    • No, there is a significant difference – the NIHEs were tested against and upgraded against normal university criteria, and their performance since then supports the decision.

      • James Fryar Says:

        Fair point. My argument was simply that the NIHEs were established for similar reasons to those now being applied to the ‘technological universities’. They were predominantly to offer ‘technical courses’ in areas seen as ‘strategically important’ in terms of the future economy of Ireland, and specifically located to service regions not catered for traditionally by the universities at the time.

        I do wonder though, after years of grade inflation, whether we’re starting to see the beginnings of institutional inflation!

  4. Conor Buckley Says:

    With all due respect to your good self, the rot *did* set in with the NIHEs getting University status. The two NIHEs should have been integrated into either the NUI or the University of Dublin. We could have had NUI LImerick and (what is now DCU) a college of UD. Similarly, the current DIT used to have its degrees awrded by UD and it should become a college/institute of that University.

    There is too much politics in the Irish university system. (I realise there can’t be none.) If Blanchardstown ITand/or Tallaght are not viable then shut them. Is a commute from either suburb really such an effort? I would also call for the Galway-Mayo IT to be subject to reason. Close Castlebar – the students can go to either Sligo, Galway or wherever they used to go to before the politics messed it up.

    • I can see no good reason for this kind of clustering. DCU and UL have operated hugely successfully as stand-alone universities, and have entered into appropriate strategic partnerships: in DCU’s case with NUI Maynooth and RCSI. I cannot see any argument why DCU would have worked better as some sort of outlier of Trinity. It has a completely different high value mission.

  5. You see no need for “clustering” and then say how well DCU is doing just that. Consider how All Hallows and Mater Dei are “clustered” with DCU. I agree that UL and DCU have done well, but that was not guaranteed when they were set up. (One could say something similar about the “technological university”.) With a population of 4 million, now 4.5 million, can Ireland afford seven universities? Soon to be eight or more…

    As for DCU and UD having “completely different high value mission[s]” surely the “high value” mission is to provide quality third level education. DCU managed well enough by having its degrees conferred by UD. I am deliberately saying UD rather than Trinity as under my suggestion Trinity would be one of two colleges within the University of Dublin.

    • Greg Foley Says:

      As Ferdinand has said on a number of occasions over the years – and I agree completely – there is far too much emphasis on ‘structures’ within the education system. Indeed, there is an obsession with fiddling with organisational structures throughout the Irish political and public service systems. In keeping with this fixation, the Minister thinks that by reducing the number of institutions (whether they become TUs or not) the system will, as if by magic, become immediately better. (If I hear the phrase ‘critical mass’ once more I’ll go nuts.) There is no reason to believe that this will be the case. Indeed, the overall experience of clustering and merging within the state sector has been mixed to say the least. (HSE anyone?). Furthermore, Conor Buckley’s idea that DCU being a college of the University of Dublin would make any significant difference to its excellence or otherwise is fanciful. It might make the system seem tidier but it would make no substantive difference to the quality of education delivered. DCU is what it is now because it has had good, often excellent, staff, pretty good management, a reasonably good vision of what it wants to be and – crucially – it has always attracted good students. All of these arguments about clustering etc. are peripheral to the discussions we should be having and these relate to real issues like educational standards throughout the system, funding, teaching and learning strategy, research policy and the fact that the employment rates of graduates in many disciplines are depressingly low.

  6. cormac Says:

    Well done James Fryar! ‘Institutional inflation’ is exactly right, good expression..I think one reponse is that the Institutes didn’t start teaching to degree level for fun, but because employers started to demand degrees – academic inflation in society.

    I’m not sure what the solution is, but the current mania for IoT amalgamation baffles me..

    I wish they’d keep the money for constructing quiet offices for staff (we’re currently 4-5 to an office). Or for reduced teaching loads – IoT lecturers have a teaching load that is the same as the European average for secondary school teachers…does anyone really think this makes sense? These are the simple things that enable academic activity, not name changes…

  7. V.H Says:

    @ Greg;
    When you have a country of 3 million people and a million of them are administrators of one sort or another. What else would they be up to other than building and rebuilding the darn watch never allowing the thing to tell time.
    I just don’t get why when a need is identified that structures aren’t created to answer that, and just that. But there is a curse of admin mission creep coupled with a terror of missing some nuance that will make idiots out of people in the future. What the dickens was that computer programme, a few years ago, where they attempted to account for pay in the Health Service and made such a bags of it.
    @ FvP;
    Why on earth is there a criminal provision in the Bill. What could you possible get up to that hasn’t been provided/proscribed within existing legislation. Why on earth is it the length it is. Surely a charter could be cobbled together. Why are the marching orders so specific. Is there a need for another Uni in Dublin. One campus ?.
    And to lighten things a bit. Do you think String Theory will be answered by someone with a North Dublin accent.

  8. DIT lecturer Michael Seery makes a not entirely flattering comment about this post:

    • V.H Says:

      I tend to view blogs without a comment section, however restrictive, quite differently. It’s with a very cold eye I consider their argument since there is no possibility to refute. But in this case having targeted your position to then block any comment from you just seems a bit pointless.

      • Greg Foley Says:

        My point is that when the entry point for a course are higher, the overall standard tends to be higher. This is based on my experience of teaching for many years on the same degree program for which the CAO points have varied from 350 to 485 points. I’m not saying that one should typecast individuals but my experience is that when the points are higher, the class – on average – contains better and, crucially, more motivated students. The atmosphere in the class becomes tangibly better when teaching a course for which the demand is high. (My current second years for example, who came in on 480 points or so, are a great bunch to teach. This was not the case a short few years ago when our points were in the 300s.)

        This is not an argument about IoTs or Universities or individuals, it is just an observation that I have made. But, I suppose I’m extrapolating a bit and saying that IoTs who run programs with quite low points requirements (because they’re not in demand) tend – on average – to be populated by less gifted and less motivated students. This leads inevitably I believe to a lowering of standards – perhaps an unconscious one. None of this means that excellent individuals don’t emerge from the IoT system.

        • V.H Says:

          I think you are missing just where the primary responsibility for morale lies.

          • Greg Foley Says:

            If you mean the lecturer, then you are being simplistic if you think we have that much power to motivate students. Students come to us as young adults with all sorts of baggage. They are laden down with influences from their families and especially their peer group, not to mention growing up in a highly distracting society which makes focusing on their education increasingly difficult. Furthermore, many come to third level not because they really want to but because there is little alternative.

            In all my time in education, I have never seen academics make as much effort as they are now doing to engage students and there are some, perhaps many, students that you just can’t reach. At least when students have a high CAO points score they have a proven track record of commitment and work ethic. And, yes, I know the CAO system isn’t perfect and people develop at different rates but I’m speaking from experience. But when a course is in high demand, the student population is more motivated and has a much better work ethic.

        • V.H Says:

          This in reply to 9:35am.

          I worry when I read something that at core is a rewriting of the Latin&Greek requirement. Itself a reprising of the breeding/blood or the nowadays much heard, genetics.
          If all things were equal by inputs to the 1st and 2nd level, then the CAO might have a nodding acquaintanceship to a reality. But it is nothing more than a proof that an expensive private education works. Further, designed to show this or not, that’s all it does. Last year or the year before TCD initiated a programme where it took into account the relative crapness of schools and said it would accept their top students. Arguing that to get 350 points in some schools was more of an achievement than getting above 550 in others.
          Or to rewrite the equation. TCD -or whatever they decide to call themselves- has seen that poor people get crap education and has decided to do something to rectify the problem.

          • Greg Foley Says:

            The argument that one should ‘correct’ points scores to account for the quality of the school raises all sorts of issues that are interesting things to think about but it would mean that you’d be making very subjective judgments about things like innate talent and how deserving people are, not to mention the rating of schools. Unworkable in my view.

            By the way, the elite private schools thing is very much a Dublin – and probably a south Dublin – phenomenon. The vast majority of the best -performing schools, when looked at on a country-wide basis, are non-fee paying.

            The reality is – and we’ve known this for years – is that people from disadvantaged parts of the country are far less likely to access third level. Fixing that will take a lot more than tinkering with the Leaving Cert.

  9. Andy Says:

    Hi I just wanted to know will my degree be from dit or for instance itb seens as they’ve all merged love if I could get a answer email me at

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