Posted tagged ‘Dublin Institute of Technology’

Creating ‘Technological Universities’ in Ireland

January 22, 2014

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.


The North Dublin higher education landscape

November 10, 2011

A key aspect of Irish higher education policy over the past decade has been the planned move of the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) to a new campus in North Dublin – the Grangegorman project. This was not just a higher education plan; it was part of a bigger project of north inner city regeneration, and a public agency was established to coordinate and run it.  The Granegorman Development Agency was tasked with building a new ‘city quarter’ with retail, residential, health and educational elements. DIT was to be the key part of the latter aspect.

I am writing all this in the past tense because the Irish government has now announced that the project is being ‘deferred’. Given the public exchequer position in Ireland, it is not easy to see how the proposal could be resurrected in the foreseeable future. This has significant implications for DIT, currently spread over ten or so Dublin sites only some of which are really fit for purpose, and necessarily also for the plans of DIT, with Tallaght and Blanchardstown institutes, to form a new ‘technological university.’ All of this in turn changes the assumptions previously made about the North Dublin higher education landscape.

In fact the government announcement has a bigger effect still, because the Metro North plans are also being ‘deferred’, and this will have a major impact on plans to create better access to Dublin City University.

Nobody doubts the tricky nature of Ireland’s public finances, but this announcement has major implications for higher education, and it would have been sensible to have these debated first.

PS. According to an RTE report released later this afternoon, DIT has announced that it will seek to proceed with the Grangegorman project even without public funding. Whether it will be able to access sufficient capital for this purpose remains to be seen. During the property boom that would have been more likely, given the opportunities for public private partnerships. But as DIT does not own the land and would probably still have to observe the general Grangegorman development principles, this will not be easily achieved now.

Hunting for a ‘civic and technological university’ for Dublin

January 10, 2011

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.

Gathering or distributing the university?

December 26, 2010

Here’s a topic, perhaps, to distract you as you recover from your Christmas dinner.

This last week the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) issued a recommendation to the Privy Council (to whom the task of deciding the matter is entrusted) that the UHI Millennium Institute should be awarded university status. In many ways UHI (which stands for ‘University of the Highlands and Island’) is a project rather than an institution, consisting of a partnership of a significant number of colleges and institutes spread around the West and North of Scotland. The extent of the distribution of its elements is visible in this map on UHI’s website. If the traditional model of a university is a single self-contained campus in one location, this is completely the opposite. If you thought that the existing model of the Dublin Institute of Technology was excessively distributed, think again.

Of course, in the case of DIT the Grangegorman project is based precisely on the assumption that a single location creates a more cohesive and vibrant educational institution. Elsewhere also, multi-campus universities (for example, De Montfort in England) have been consolidating their locations in order to have a single campus.

So what, if anything, should be the principle underlying all this? Is there a desirable model? The answer to that depends of course on how we view the future of higher education, and how we see university programmes developing. It is also connected with questions of economic development and regeneration, as towns and communities often argue that a university in their midst is necessary to attract investment and skills.

There doesn’t of course have to be ‘an answer’ to this – there can be several models and diversity may be desirable. But if there isn’t an answer, there needs to be an idea or a basis for assessment of what is right in each case. We need to have a sense of the economics of distributed universities, and of their capacity to connect subject areas with each other across distances. And we also need to have a proper view on what is reasonable in terms of a higher education presence in regional communities, and whether people from these communities can be offered programmes that don’t force them to leave (with the risk that they won’t return). We need to have a proper view of the geography of higher education.

Technological universities?

October 4, 2010

According to the Munster Express regional newspaper, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Batt O’Keeffe TD, told the Waterford Chamber of Commerce that the report of the higher education strategic review steering group chaired by Dr Colin Hunt ‘could have positive news for Waterford IT, Cork IT and Dublin IT.’ For non-Irish readers, these institutions are all designated as ‘Institutes of Technology’, i.e. higher education institutions that do not have university status. Of course the Minister’s teaser could mean anything at all, but given that he was saying this to Waterford businesspeople, he must have intended to hint that the quest for university status was probably going to be successful. Certainly that’s how they picked it up, and if this doesn’t turn out to be the case the Minister might want to decline invitations to speak anywhere in the South-East for a while.

In fact the good people of the Chamber appear to have taken this to be a hint that Waterford (and the other named institutions) were going to be offered a new status of ‘technological university’. This indeed has been a matter of speculation for a while, though not necessarily just in regard to these three institutes. The institute of technology sector, without input from either Waterford IT or DIT (Dublin) who have ben going their own way, has been suggesting for a while that they might be converted into one federal technological university. This case may now be receiving some support, though it is not clear exactly what form such a transformation might take, or which institutions it would affect.

At this point in my career I am most directly associated with two universities, Dublin City University and Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen. Just 25 years ago neither of these was a university, so it would be wrong of me to suggest that such changes of status should not be supported. Indeed, I suspect that a good case can be made for the three institutes in question – though I might add that the case for Waterford has not particularly been helped by the argument used by local government and business interests that Waterford needs a university for business development reasons. That is not a reason at all for a change of status of the institute, and there are other much stronger reasons to do with the academic achievements recorded there.

I would certainly take the view that the time has come for some clarity on this issue. Does Ireland still want or need an institute of technology sector? If so, should this continue to consist of all the current institutions? If not, how does one differentiate between them? Should some of the institutes gain access to the university sector through bilateral arrangements with existing universities? What should happen to the non-degree level training programmes of the institutes? If there is to be a technological university, or several such universities, will these have the same status and roles as the existing universities?

The Hunt report may suggest answers to all of this, but one way or another the government needs to bring the current uncertainty about the future of this sector to an end.

Tuition fees: a DIT perspective

August 10, 2010

The Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) is sometimes described as Ireland’s largest higher education institution; whether this description fits depends a little on how you count the students, but it is certainly big by Irish standards. Over the decades DIT has been assembled by merging a variety of different institutions and colleges around Dublin, some of them coming to the mix with a very specific mission and portfolio. It has its own degree awarding powers (having previously taken its degrees from Trinity College Dublin, or to be precise, from the University of Dublin), and for some time it has been seeking university status. But it also has a number of students studying for sub-degree qualifications. As it is spread around Dublin with a large number of different locations, it has probably been difficult to create a collegiate ethos – but that is about to change, perhaps, with the government’s announced plans to locate all the elements of DIT in one location in Grangegorman, North Dublin.

Since 2003 the President of DIT has been Professor Brian Norton. Though a respected leader and a strong consensus builder, he has not always been in the media spotlight. However, the Sunday Business Post ran an interview with him last weekend, and in this he revealed his opposition to, or at any rate his scepticism about, the reintroduction of tuition fees. He argued that if fees returned the revenues from them would simply be clawed back in their entirety by the government. But more generally he summarised his position as follows:

‘Focusing on the fees is a very odd place to start the discussion. There needs to be a policy debate about how higher education is funded, not about whether or not fees are charged. In a complex system of higher education, you can’t just change one thing without looking at the overall impact.’

The argument that fees will not help the institutions because the government will just reduce its contribution accordingly may possibly turn out to be right, though probably only partly so – the more likely scenario lies somewhere in between, with the government reducing its contribution but not to the full extent of the fees paid. But even if the DIT president were right, it would not make it a bad proposition, as it would give the institutions much greater direct control over funding and make them much less vulnerable to sudden government cuts. But his wider argument is a very curious one, as he suggests that the discussion about fees has been taking place in the absence of  a debate about higher education funding. This is plainly absurd, as there have been detailed analyses of funding, not least in the OECD report on Irish higher education; and it is because these investigations have seen no other realistic options that the return of tuition fees has been recommended. In any case, those advocationg tuition fees (including this writer) have always placed the call in that wider context.

I guess that all this is partly to be seen in the context of the maybe slightly different perspective on all this in the institute of technology sector, where there may be fears that fees could have a problematic impact on student recruitment. That should be taken seriously in the debate, as the success of the IOT sector is important for Irish higher education. But it is not perhaps helpful to suggest that support for the reintroduction of tuition fees has not been placed into the context of higher education funding – it has never been handled in any other way. Nobody (myself included) wants fees just for their own sake. Rather, the argument is that higher education is being starved of funding, and that too much of the money that is being paid into the system is being spent on subsidising students from wealthier backgrounds, to the detriment of those from disadvantaged backgrounds. That is the context of the discussion.

Capital investment

July 28, 2010

I have, over recent months, from time to time expressed some concern as to whether Ireland has a clear policy on investing in higher education. I still have major concerns in that regard, not least because there is every indication that universities and colleges may suffer another significant budget cut later this year, making it almost impossible to argue that we are still providing a quality education for students. But it would be wrong not to acknowledge that, in certain areas of capital investment, the government is getting it right.

First, there was the announcement some days ago of the new investment in research through the 5th Cycle of the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI), which indicated a strong national commitment to a high value economy and a knowledge society. Yesterday, the government in outlining its capital programme for the coming year endorsed the plan to move the various constituent parts of the Dublin Institute of Technology on to one campus, and more generally announced a capital programme for higher education.

In all of this there is a welcome awareness of the importance of investment in higher education. All that is missing now is a realistic plan for resourcing teaching in a way that is affordable but does not destroy the quality of Irish higher education.

The fly in the ointment? The politicians simply cannot resist making silly job creation predictions. This time the promise is that the investments overall will create 270,000 jobs. Politicians really need to be weaned off this kind of talk.

Dublin to have a ‘super Institute’?

June 18, 2010

Yesterday’s Irish Independent newspaper reported that four institutes of technology – Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), Blanchardstown IOT, Tallaght IOT and Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology have been in ‘secret talks’ to create a ‘combined super Institute of Technology’. Initially it appears that the collaboration will, if agreed, focus on avoiding programme duplication and on shared support services, but the longer term objective could be a united institute.

All of this is of course connected with the question of what should happen to the institutes of technology. Should they stay as they are, should they join in regional alliances or linkages with universities (the ‘clustering’ idea), should they individually or in groups seek university status? And in all this, how will the mission of this sector be developed, and will it still be distinct from that of the current universities?

Some of these questions may be addressed by the Higher Education Strategic Review when its report is published. But in the meantime it is clear that the institute of technology sector is in flux, and is unlikely to survive in quite its current form.