University criteria dismissed by college president

The president of Cork Institute of Technology says the standards needed to become a technological university are too focused on research and not enough on meeting the needs of industry and the regions.

In a stinging attack on the long-awaited criteria that the Higher Education Authority (HEA) says must be achieved to become a TU, Dr Brendan Murphy said the proposed Munster Technological University (MTU) would continue to provide courses across a range of disciplines in addition to the science and engineering courses he feels are too central to the new standards.

CIT has plans with Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) and Institute of Technology Tralee (ITT) to develop the multi-campus MTU. But Dr Murphy’s comments appear to put the consortium into conflict with the HEA, which has designed the blueprint published yesterday.

Plans are also in place for joint TU applications between institutes of technology (IoTs) in the south-east (Carlow and Waterford), Dublin (the IoTs at Dublin, Blanchardstown and Tallaght) and the border-midlands-west region (Athlone, Dundalk, Galway-Mayo, Letterkenny and Sligo).

As well as setting targets for postgraduate research places and requirements for high academic standards, the HEA has set out a rigorous process of assessment by international experts that suggest it will be at least two years before any TU application would be approved.

But another HEA document on structural changes to the wider higher education sector said no institution should offer courses across all disciplines, but that they should instead focus on areas of specialist expertise.

Dr Murphy said the TU criteria reflects a lack of understanding of the concept and mission of a TU found in many other countries, where they have equal focus on teaching, research and engagement.

“Instead the criteria over-emphasise a traditional view of a university focus on a narrow definition of research, in terms of student research numbers, staff research qualifications and types of research. The criteria fail to provide a framework for the creation of a new type of university and instead seem designed to protect an outdated and introspective model,” he said.

“These criteria represent a danger for the creation of effective technological universities in that they will drive and reward behaviour in prioritising teaching and especially research, at the expense of engagement,” Dr Murphy said.

He said the MTU would continue courses in business, humanities, health sciences, visual and performing arts, and while it would engage in research consistent with its overall mission, relationship with enterprises and the community would be at its heart.

The Carlow and Waterford IoTs welcomed publication of the criteria and said they look forward to demonstrating their collective capacity in meeting them. But with political pressure to fast-forward a TU for the south-east, the Union of Students in Ireland said it is important that the process remains independent.

The Irish Federation of University Teachers said any proposed mergers of third level colleges, as envisaged in the HEA structural reforms, must not introduce barriers to college access for students as distance from home is a major factor in third level participation.

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