Institutes of Technology have their own autonomous award making powers for the first time ever, with the exception of doctoral awards.
Calling it a significant step for the sector, the Minister of State with responsibility for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. said that the measure establishes all institutes of technology as autonomous awarding bodies, placing them on an equal footing with other designated awarding bodies such as the universities and the RCSI.
These powers have been granted following the enactment of the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Act 2019 last July.
Prior to this legislation all institutes of technology required delegated authority from Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) to make awards on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ).
In granting these powers, this Act addresses the legislative difference in the relationship between QQI and the universities and QQI and the institutes of technology respectively.
This now creates a single, coherent quality assurance and qualifications space amongst public higher education institutions.
The Act also includes key provisions to strengthen the independent control of the academic councils within the Institutes of Technology, bringing them into line with those of the existing designated awarding bodies.
The autonomy of the academic decision-making of an academic council and its independence from the governing authority of an Institute is necessary to support the granting of autonomous awarding powers.
Institutes of Technology allows students to progress from level 6 to level 10 if the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ).
At present there are 11 Institutes of Technology in Ireland and one Technological University formed when DIT, and the Institutes of Technology in Blanchardstown and Tallaght merged to form TU Dublin last year.
There are four other Technological University bids in the pipeline at present.
They are Munster Technological University (MTU) comprising Cork Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology Tralee, Technological University for the South East of Ireland (TUSEI) with the Waterford Institute of Technology and I.T. Carlow, Connacht Ulster Alliance (CUA) consisting of Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, I.T. Sligo and Letterkenny I.T. and Athlone Limerick Technological University (ALTU) with Athlone I.T. and Limerick I.T.
The mission of Technological Universities is consistent with the pre-existing one fir Institutes of Technology, with an emphasis on programmes at levels 6 to 8 and industry-focused research.
To qualify for Technological University status, each applicant must achieve high standards across a range of areas including the qualifications of staff, the quality of research output and the proportion of students engaged in lifelong learning.
The new award making powers for our Institutes of Technology form part of the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030, which includes among its goals the need to develop critical mass in our research capacity to ensure that we attract the best researchers and develop world class capability in high-value niche areas.
It also calls for structural changes in the higher education system to ensure greater effectiveness and efficiencies and we need to ensure that institutions cooperate to mutual benefit.