Institutes face high standards process

The high standards that colleges will have to meet to become a technological university mean it could be at least two years before any such institution is created.

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) is publishing the process and the criteria that will have be met today, with four groups of two or more institutes of technology already planning joint applications.

The most prominent has been the campaign on the proposed merger of Waterford Institute of Technology and the Institute of Technology Carlow to form a technological university for the south-east.

But other applications are planned for a Munster technological university (Cork, Limerick and Tralee institutes of technology), a technical university in Dublin (combining the Dublin, Blanchardstown and Tallaght institutes) and a fourth in the border, Midlands and west region (a joint venture between the institutes in Athlone, Dundalk, Galway- Mayo, Letterkenny and Sligo).

The technical university sector was proposed over a year ago in the 20-year higher education strategy. It suggested a technical university would be focused on preparing graduates for work in a changing technological world, through teaching and research that will meet the needs of society and industry, but with particular regard to regional needs.

Among the standards the HEA has said colleges will have to achieve to become a technical university are that:

* 90% of full-time academic staff must have at least a level 9 (masters or equivalent) degree;

* Almost half of full-time academics must have a doctoral qualification of equivalent professional experience

* At least 4% of full-time students from honours degree or higher diploma (level 8) upward must be on research programmes leading to a level 9 or 10 (doctoral) qualification.

While some of the larger institutes of technology may already have the required standards of staff qualifications and research-led courses, reaching those targets could be a significant challenge for any of the college consortiums considering a technical university application.

The requirement for flexible delivery of courses and extending the academic year, could prove the biggest challenge. However, greater availability of academic staff to students, particularly in the institute of technology sector, is already a key requirement of lecturers under the Croke Park agreement. While there has been renewed pressure for the creation of a university in the south-east since the loss of more than 500 jobs at the TalkTalk centre in Waterford last October, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has stressed the process is not a political one.

Although it is not expected that any group of colleges would reach the standards straight away, a HEA spokesperson said the goals are attainable.

“Any decision to recommend technical university status be granted will be on basis of clearly laid-out criteria. Any group of institutions that has achieved technical university status will be comparable to any other university,” he said.


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