-Institutes of Technology set to apply for University status


-Proposals met with “arrogant” responses from universities



ebates are raging over the status of institutes of technology in Irish third level education, as the Irish government is set to back a new technological university.

The possibility of new technological universities was first raised by the Hunt report on higher education last year, which prompted the Higher Education Authority (HEA), and in extension the Irish government, to back the proposal. As a result, institutes of technologies in Dublin, the southeast and the border/ midlands/ west (BMW) region are expected to apply for technological university status later this year.

However, the responses from established universities have been unanimously negative, in what has been described as “an arrogant dismissal of the institutes of technologies as second-class institutions far removed from their previously espoused attitude of parity of esteem.”

In response to these accusations, Ned Costello, chief executive of the Irish Universities Association, representing presidents, stated that; “This is not a question of us being elitist.” Costello continued to defend the attitude of the Irish Universities Association as a matter of efficacy, saying that it would not serve the country well to have a range of universities which do not “walk, talk or act like” a university.

Similarly, second year politics student, Dillon O’Kane, asks what is in a title. “Applying ‘university’ status onto an institute of technology is not going to change this when they are two different institutions; it seems to me to be pointless rebranding.”

The HEA has addressed this issue however, as spokesperson Malcolm Byrne stated that “the standards that would be expected in academic terms would be the same as any other university”, adding that the HEA had drawn up strict criteria as to what the technological university should be.

Not only can a sense of elitism be found at a faculty level, but among certain members of the student body too, as articulated by psychology student, Rob Quinlan, who expressed his opinion that “universities will always be superior to any institute of technology, they are academically more challenging and as a result are more greatly respected.”

But Nimisha Thuluvath, an American student in UCD, told the College Tribune that she could not understand the current debate surrounding Institutes of Technology in Ireland; “Afterall, in the US it’s MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that is among the most prestigious of places to study.”

Arguably any elitist attitudes towards institutes of technology have little place in the current economic crisis. Dr Ruaidhri Neavyn, President of the Waterford Institute of Technology, advocates that it is the institutes of technology themselves which offer specialist training which may contribute directly to employability in Ireland.

Dr Neavyn, has said that in order for Ireland to successfully emerge from the recession, the higher education system “needs a diversity of institutions capable of meeting the needs of our economy and society. There is now a real need to develop technological universities with a very different focus from our current universities”.

Elitism aside, the fact remains that universities have suffered recent cut backs, and the development of new technological universities would require the spending of money within an already limited budget. This opinion was voiced by Dr Kevin Denny, lecturer in economics at UCD who stated that because universities are already “terribly under-funded”, we should “concentrate on improving them, rather than opening new universities.”

As the discourse of arrogance and elitism continues to contradict the language of third level education reform, it is important to note that the plan is still in its early stages of development, as emphasized by Higher Education authority spokes person Malcolm Byrne.

“First of all there’s no decision that has been made about giving university status to anyone yet. What’s provided for in the National Strategy for Higher Education, the Hunt Report, is for the concept of a technological university and it’s essentially a university along the lines as we know it but would be more focused on technology and indeed industry.”

Roisin Carlos