Role of ITs could be diluted by status issue

 

Any decision to grant university status to the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) could potentially damage the entire institute of technology sector, according to a confidential report commissioned by the Department of Education. Seán Flynn, Education Editor, reports.

The report from renowned international expert Dr Jim Port says university designation for Waterford would dilute the role of the institutes, whose jobs and technology focus is seen as essential to help build the national skills base.

The report says university status for Waterford would be a boost for the region. But much of it focuses on the negative impact on the other 13 institutes and the overall potential damage to the Irish higher education sector.

Yesterday, both the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and the Minister for Education, Mary Hanafin, appeared to lay the ground for a negative decision on Waterford's bid.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said that upgrading the Waterford Institute of Technology to university status could not be done "in isolation".

And speaking on local radio in Carlow, Ms Hanafin, said that while there were strong regional arguments in this case, she would also have to take a national view.

Ms Hanafin signalled that the economy needs the current mix of universities and the more job- focused institutes of technology.

Earlier this week, there were sharp exchanges between Ms Hanafin and Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Waterford TD, Martin Cullen.

Yesterday, Ms Hanafin acknowledged that "Martin Cullen, has made very genuine passionate arguments in favour of the . . . local area." But she added: "We also have to look at the national implications. In this country the success of our third-level education has been because we have universities and institutes of technology . . . It is always very important that we keep the skills base, so that we can ensure that we are able to meet the needs of industry coming in, that we have at all levels a quality education on offer."

A final decision on WIT's bid - first tabled two years ago - is expected within weeks.

Speaking in Waterford yesterday Mr Ahern said: "Discussions are going on in Government based on the report." Mr Ahern spoke of the "knock-on" effects in terms of what is done in one area affecting other parts of the country. In recent months, the Dublin Institute of Technology has joined WIT in seeking university status.

The landmark 2004 OECD report on the third-level system proposed that the current division between the seven universities and the 14 institutes of technology should be maintained, because of their differing focus.