Conditions agreed for universities of technology

Tue, Feb 7, 2012, 00:00

THE ESTABLISHMENT of technological universities in the southeast and other regions has moved a step closer after the Higher Education Authority (HEA) agreed new conditions which must be met by institutes of technology.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn is set to agree the new rules shortly – opening the way for institutes of technology in the southeast, Dublin, the Munster region and the Border midlands west region to apply for designation as a technological university (TU).

The rules were described by one senior education figure as challenging. “The institutes will be stretched to meet the new criteria, but not to breaking point. It is up to them. There is nothing here to close the door on the institutes.”

The new rules – seen by The Irish Times– require the institutes of technology to meet conditions including more modern work practices, the deepening of their research capacity, and increased numbers of academics and staff at masters and doctorate level.

The rules – due to be published by Mr Quinn this week – were drawn up after a heated debate at the HEA board.

The moves towards TU status have provoked a hostile response from some university presidents, who claim the process is being driven by political considerations. Senior Cabinet figures, including Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan and Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin, have been strong supporters of TU status for the southeast.

The most controversial of the new rules is the demand that workplace practices and employment contracts in the institutes are reflective of a modern university, including “the flexible delivery of programmes for diverse learner groups, the length and structure of the academic year, the efficient utilisation of the institution’s physical resources and other infrastructure”.

This is set to create some industrial relations issues for the institutes where work practices have drawn unfavourable comment.

Last year the Comptroller and Auditor General John Buckley said it was “disturbing that some lecturers have a belief that their obligations to an institute of technology are exhausted upon delivery of contract hours which are set in terms of a norm of 16 hours per week”.

Details of the new rules include:

The number of students at master’s/doctorate levels “will not be less” than 4 per cent of all enrolment. In addition, the college must raise these enrolments to 7 per cent within a decade of designation as a TU;

At least 45 per cent of full time academic staff will hold a doctorate level or the equivalence in professional experience, combined with a terminal degree appropriate to their profession;

Research will focus on applied, problem-oriented research and social and technological development, with direct social and economic impacts and public and private benefits where the university is located;

The new TU will be capable of supporting research that can be compared to appropriate international benchmarks.

An expert panel drawn up by the HEA – and made up of international experts – will assess each application for TU status.

Last month Mr Quinn told the Dáil there would be no political interference in the process.