Third-level rift as university heads labelled 'arrogant'

Thu, Jan 26, 2012, 00:00

SENIOR FIGURES in the institute of technology sector have accused university presidents of “arrogance” in the dispute about new technological universities for Dublin, the southeast and the Border/ midlands/west (BMW) region.

One influential figure said there was “bitter disappointment” in the sector with the opposition of the universities to Government policy on technology universities.

Recent statements by the university presidents were seen “as an arrogant dismissal of the IoTs as second-class institutions far removed from their previously espoused attitude of parity of esteem”.

It was reminiscent, he noted, of the position taken by the then universities against the establishment of the NIHEs, which were recognised eventually as UL and DCU.

Tensions between key figures in the university and IoT sectors have increased in recent weeks amid reports that the Government will back a new technological university for the southeast.

Ned Costello, chief executive of the group which represents the seven university presidents, said a college must “walk, talk and act like a university” if it was to be recognised as such. He also highlighted the relatively low number of PhD students in the institutes when compared to the university sector.

The possibility of new technological universities was first raised by the Hunt report on higher education last year. Senior figures in the IoT sector yesterday said the Higher Education Authority (HEA) had been slow to accept this recommendation.

One said: “The HEA needs to implement Government policy; it is not there to protect the self-interests of existing universities.”

IoTs in Dublin, the southeast and the BMW region are expected to apply for technological university status later this year.

Dr Ruaidhrí Neavyn, president of the Waterford Institute of Technology, last night refused to respond to recent comments by university presidents.

He confirmed that WIT and Carlow IT were at an advanced stage of discussion regarding the creation of a multicampus technological university for the southeast.

Dr Neavyn said that for Ireland to succeed as it emerged from the recession, the higher education system “needs a diversity of institutions capable of meeting the needs of our economy and society. There is now a real need to develop technological universities with a very different focus from our current universities.”

Dr Neavyn added: “The proposed technological university of the southeast will tackle the challenges of the region head-on by focusing on the employability and flexibility of its graduates.

“It will take a practical and applied approach to education and research and will work very closely with its business and industry partners. This partnership approach is fundamental to the future growth and sustainability of the region.”