COLLEGES could be invited to apply to become technological universities by the end of the summer, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn will indicate in a key higher education speech this morning.
In his first major policy statement on third-level education since taking office in March, Mr Quinn will address one of the most significant restructuring proposals for the sector put forward by an expert group chaired by economist Colin Hunt.
It proposed the creation of a technological university sector through the merger of a number of the 14 institutes of technology (IoTs) as part of a major overhaul of Irish higher education.
A number of them have already joined forces to consider applying for technological university status, including all four Dublin IoTs; Cork, Waterford and Tralee IoTs; and Limerick and Carlow.
Mr Quinn will tell a forum on the Hunt Report at the Royal Irish Academy that he accepts the view that it is time for institutes of technology to be allowed to develop further. But he will also stress that the new technological university sector needs to be small and focused on the same quality of teaching and research as universities.
“There are untapped capacities within (the IoTs) and I believe that the creation of a very small number of technological universities has the potential to release those. But we must be vigilant and ensure that excellence continues to be the hallmark of our higher education institutions and of our system of higher education,” Mr Quinn will tell the RIA forum.
“We cannot afford to be influenced by conventional prejudices, territorialism or institutional ambition for new status without new substance,” he will say.
He has asked the Higher Education Authority to open consultations on a range of demanding performance criteria, already being developed for the new sector, and he expects a report on the outcome in the coming weeks.
The minister will outline his vision for an evolving higher education sector with a small number of substantial technological universities, each focused on regional innovation and skills, but also working closely with universities and other institutions as part of strong regional clusters.
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