Institutes of technology not ready for university status
Research gulf divides higher education
Yet this is the basic credential any early-career academic would need to be considered for an academic post. Given competition, most shortlisted candidates will have a post-doctorate, published, and have an international profile. Targets have been set to increase the proportion of staff with doctorates but this misses the point that a PhD is merely a necessary but insufficient credential for an appointment in a university. Much more is required.
The research-intensive part of the Irish higher education system lies in the universities. In 2010/2011, the seven universities were responsible for 93 per cent of doctoral candidates in Ireland, 98 per cent of research expenditure, 99 per cent of research contracts and grants, and 84 per cent of research staff.
The universities had almost 77,000 undergraduate students, just above the institutes of technology’s combined 72,885. But the universities had over 26,000 postgrads and 11,000 international students in contrast to 5,376 postgrads and 1,201 international students in the institutes. DIT is the only institution with a stronger research profile than the norm.
There are many fine technical and technological universities in the US and Europe. They pursue research in engineering, life sciences and business with an emphasis on applied research. They are research-intensive and universities.
Take the Technical University of Denmark – it is first in the Nordic region, seventh in Europe and 46th in the world on the Leiden citation impact indicator of top 10 per cent publications. It is a serious player in aquatic research, biomedical engineering and biotechnology. It aims to be global leader in three to five research fields.
Denmark is a country we often seek to emulate in Ireland. It has managed to maintain a strong welfare system with a prosperous economy. One of its strengths is its system of higher education. A related strength is a public policy capacity that allows for robust debate on key policy issues backed by parliamentary accountability untainted by the pervasive localism that undermines the pursuit of the public good in so many policy areas in Ireland.
I understand the desire of some institutes of technology to become technological universities but this status should not be granted unless they meet stringent criteria from countries such as Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands.
Brigid Laffan is director of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at European University Institute, Florence