Technological universities offer alternative path

Students who graduate from Ireland’s newest third-level sector now do so with university qualifications

Ireland’s third-level education sector has expanded in recent years with the establishment of five fully accredited technological universities.

The combined appeal of diverse programme offerings and convenient locations has made these regional universities the preferred choice for many students, resulting in an increase in applications recorded by the CAO this year.

Formed to produce highly skilled graduates from science and technology-related programmes, the technological university (TU) sector is now seen as having a key part to play in the future economic development of Ireland.

While they are geared towards meeting labour market skill needs, technological universities also share many of the same attributes of traditional universities. They are required to meet national standards and criteria for accreditation set by the State’s educational authorities and operate at the highest academic standards and are also increasing the numbers of courses at every level, ranging from higher certificate to doctoral-level degree programmes.


Students who graduate from a TU can now do so with university qualifications. In this special supplement we take a look at each of the five new institutions. We sample the types of courses on offer and offer advice on what to consider when you are deciding on the institution that will best suit you.

TUs will often take a more hands-on approach to learning and will engage closely with local and regional businesses to develop partnerships to give students exposure to industry before embarking on their career.

“An important feature for South East Technological University (SETU) is its strong tradition of collaboration and co-creation with regional enterprises in skills development, education, research and innovation, and this means we are deeply rooted in our region whilst maintaining an international outlook,” says Prof Veronica Campbell, president of SETU.

This focus on industry and work-placement opportunities is strengthened by programmes promoting entrepreneurship and innovation and TUs typically provide resources and support to students who wish to explore this avenue.

“Entrepreneurship and innovation are key pillars of the TU Dublin entrepreneurship strategy, Dare to Discover,” says Paul O’Reilly, project lead at TU Dublin’s GROWTHhub entrepreneurship programme.

Students are encouraged to develop “an entrepreneurial mindset” through workshops, modules, accelerators and hackathons and are given access to successful entrepreneurs through seminars and mentorship programmes.

TUs also typically offer students practical learning opportunities that allow them to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world problems and challenges. Atlantic Technological University (ATU) has established close partnerships with industry and professional bodies which collaborate regularly to ensure courses remain relevant as industries evolve.

Students are given tools to encourage new ways of thinking and the capacity to solve problems and create value – we support them to become the game changers we need in every context of our lives

—  Paul O’Reilly, TU Dublin

“The majority of our programmes involve a work/practice-based placement,” says ATU’s Aidan Haughey. “This gives our students the chance to work on real-world projects, collaborate with industry professionals and gain valuable skills and experience that will be useful in their future careers.”

Collaborative learning is keenly focused upon in TUs, allowing students to work together on projects and develop teamworking skills that are highly valued in the workplace.

“Students are given tools to encourage new ways of thinking, idea generation and the capacity to solve problems and create value – we support them to become the game changers we need in every context of our lives,” TU Dublin’s Paul O’Reilly says.

This practical focus, along with strong industry links and modern facilities, can give graduates a competitive edge in the job market.

Apprenticeship opportunities are also offered across a wide range of areas from craft, construction, engineering, hospitality and food.

“SETU’s span is broader than that of more traditional universities, in that we offer courses from levels 6 and 7 of the National Framework of Qualifications (including apprentice programmes) through to level 10 (PhD), which means students have many progression route opportunities,” says Prof Campbell.

Opting to study closer to home will naturally be a more cost-effective option for many as it eliminates the need to relocate to larger cities where accommodation availability and cost can be prohibitive. Funding has been provided by Government to build student accommodation to address the student housing crisis.

Technological Universities are expected to address the social and economic needs of their region to ensure that as many students as possible will have access to university in every region of the country.

TUs have programmes that are updated regularly to reflect the latest developments and trends in the field and they typically have access to state-of-the-art equipment and facilities, allowing students to work with the latest tools and technologies.

The 2022-2023 academic year was the first year that Ireland had five fully functioning technological universities in operation. Considering the size of the task, involving the consolidation of 12 of Ireland’s 14 institutes of technology, it is a remarkable how smoothly the amalgamation has gone.

Of course, this year’s cyber attack at MTU where 6GB of data was taken from its computer system and last year’s attack on the HSE show why the threat of online hacking will now be a priority for every institution, no matter what sector they operate in. With this in mind, students of all third-level institutions should take steps to protect their personal information as best they can and should also familiarise themselves with their institution’s data security measures to ensure that they are taking appropriate steps to protect their personal data.

In a world where technology is ever-evolving, and alongside advancements in automation and technologies for energy transition, artificial intelligence is recognised as a disruptive technology. According to the World Economic Forum, artificial intelligence will replace 85 million jobs across the globe by 2025. Nonetheless, the forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020 also suggests that the technology will generate 97 million new jobs in the coming years.

Many of these jobs have yet to be invented but in this special supplement on technological universities, we look at how artificial intelligence is already being factored in to third-level education. We look at the impact of “Industry 4.0″, referred to sometimes as the fourth industrial revolution, where physical manufacturing systems are integrated with data technologies.

We sample the types of courses on offer at the country’s newly established TUs and examine what kind of educational experience students should expect from Ireland’s newest third-level sector once college starts in the autumn.

If you are considering your options before the CAO Change of Mind deadline, it is important to conduct thorough research by visiting university websites and reading up on each course.

If one thing is certain, it is that there are plenty of options and a lot of courses to consider in almost every field of study.

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Iriseoir agus Eagarthóir Gaeilge An Irish Times. Éanna Ó Caollaí is The Irish Times' Irish Language Editor, editor of The Irish Times Student Hub, and Education Supplements editor.