For most students, particularly at undergraduate level, colleges, universities, TUs and IoTs all serve the same broad purpose: providing a third-level education in a particular subject or subject. It’s only when you break it down that you notice the differences.
Broadly speaking, a traditional university creates knowledge through the research of their academics, with a focus on excellence in teaching, learning and cutting-edge research and innovation.
Over the past five years, a number of institutes of technology - which had a similar remit to the technological universities - merged together into five new technological universities.
Technological universities tend to have much closer links with industry - whether that’s a music course designed to meet the needs of the music industry or an engineering course driven by the needs of engineering firms. Lecturers are more likely to have come from industry than to have progressed through the ranks of academia.
This allowed them to operate on a bigger scale than before, while also providing the option of a university qualification to those who may not have had the CAO points or financial wherewithal to study in one of Ireland’s big cities.
TUs also have a longer “ladder of courses”, offering level six (certificate) right through to level ten (PhD), with plenty of opportunities for students to move up the national framework of qualifications. They also host a large number of apprenticeships.
Dundalk IT and the Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dun Laoghaire are the only two remaining institutes of technology left in Ireland.
Colleges, meanwhile, tend to refer to the teacher-training colleges, smaller institutions such as the National College of Ireland or fee-paying third-levels such as Griffith College.
For students weighing up their further and higher education options who are trying to get their head around this relatively new concept of a technological university, we’re here to help you weigh up your options.
The big five
TU Dublin: Formed from an amalgamation of IT Blanchardstown, DIT and IT Tallaght, this new university serves the Dublin area. DIT already had several campuses spread across Dublin city, but operations are gradually moving out to Grangegorman, near Smithfield and Stoneybatter in the north inner city - although the Tallaght and Blanchardstown campuses will remain.
Munster Technological University: Formed from an amalgamation of CIT in Cork and IT Tralee, this university serves the southwest of Ireland, with campuses in Kerry and a number in and around Cork city.
Atlantic Technological University: Formed from an amalgamation between IT Letterkenny, IT Sligo, Galway-Mayo IT and St Angela’s, this university serves the west coast of Ireland with campuses and courses in Letterkenny, Sligo, Galway city, Killybegs, Connemara, Mountbellow and Castlebar.
Technological University of the Shannon Midlands-Midwest: Formed from an amalgamation of IT Athlone and Limerick IT, this university serves the midlands, midwest and Shannon region. It has campuses in Limerick and Athlone as well as Thurles, Clonmel and Ennis.
South East Technological University: Formed from an amalgamation of Waterford IT and Carlow IT, this university serves the southeast of the country. It has campuses in Carlow, Waterford, Wexford, Wicklow and Kilkenny.
TU Dublin: This university has five main faculties including arts and humanities, business, engineering and built environment, sciences and health, and the relatively new faculty of computing, digital and data.
Across these faculties, students can explore courses in a diverse range of schools including music, art and design, culinary arts and food technology, social sciences, law, education, tourism and hospitality studies, language studies, global business, marketing and entrepreneurship, management, people and organisations, technology, retail and supply chains, accounting, economics and finance, transport and civil engineering, architecture, building and environment, electrical and electronic engineering, mechanical engineering, surveying and construction innovation, transport and civil engineering, physics, clinical and optometric sciences, biological, health and sports sciences, food science and environmental health, chemical and biopharmaceutical sciences, maths and statistics, computer sciences, enterprise computing and digital transformation, and informatics and cybersecurity.
MTU: Art and design, business, childcare, computer science, engineering, event management, health and leisure, humanities, media and communications, music, musical theatre, nursing, popular music, science, social care, theatre and drama are among the courses on offer at MTU’s six main campuses.
SETU: Courses are available in the areas of business, humanities, science, engineering, computing, and sport. SETU develops new, expert-led, courses of study across disciplines on an ongoing basis with offerings in areas such as bio-medical electronics and Robotics, organic agriculture, set design and construction, and computer forensics and security.
ATU: ATU offers more than 600 programmes of study, available to undergraduate students, postgraduates and lifelong learners. Nearly 250 of these programmes are available as CAO programmes. Because it incorporated IT Sligo, a leader and innovator in online learning, 350 are offered as online, flexible and professional development programmes.
Teaching, courses in health and nursing are among the many options, with strong workplace experience and progression pathways on offer.
TUS: TUS offers in areas such as art and design education, precision engineering, polymer engineering and sports science. Programmes are designed to the highest of academic standards; for example, all social care work programmes at TUS have been awarded CORU accreditation.
Note: Courses at the TUs are accredited by QQI - the gold-standard for accreditation in Ireland. However, it is always worth double-checking if courses in areas like health and social care are also accredited by the relevant professional body (eg the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland or CORU).
Student life and support services
Perhaps no surprise to many, but it’s nonetheless a stark and shocking statistic: one-third of college and university students are experiencing “serious” financial hardship, according to a survey from the Higher Education Authority.
Across the country, the failure to tackle the housing crisis means that students are struggling to afford surging rents in the bigger cities of Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick. It’s hampering their mobility and limiting their course choices.
But, for many, TUs may just be a lifeline. With campuses outside the bigger cities - or, as with TU Dublin’s Blanchardstown and Tallaght campuses, on the edge of the cities - and a wide and growing range of courses, it’s allowing more and more students to avoid rental costs and live at home. Waterford city as well as Sligo, Athlone and Tralee town have a vibrant student population, and the growth of the TUs means that student life has also become more interesting.
As with the more traditional universities, the TUs all provide a wide variety of support services across their campuses. These include health, counselling and disability supports, learning supports, scholarships and financial supports and, of course, a selection of student clubs and societies, campus media and representation through the students’ unions.
All the country’s universities - especially DCU and Maynooth University - strive to support students from more disadvantaged backgrounds. But because the TUs tend to have a slightly higher proportion of less wealthy students - compared to, say, UCD or Trinity College which have a higher proportion of students from fee-paying schools, the TUs tend to be strong when it comes to social inclusion and supporting students with struggling finances or with additional learning needs.
TUs also tend to have smaller class sizes, meaning that students can get much more focused attention and care. Although many love the feel of a big campus and the opportunities for anonymity and a fresh start that they provide, TUs can be a good option for anyone who may feel overwhelmed by a bigger campus, with students and staff often on first-name terms.
At a glance: the key differences between universities and technological universities
· Tends to be more focused on broad intellectual development
· Courses generally (but less so in recent years) more focused on societal needs
· Class sizes larger on average
· One dominant central campus, with smaller learning centres or affiliated institutions sometimes dotted nearby or elsewhere in Ireland
· Less pathways and links to further education (PLCs, traineeships, apprenticeships_
· National remit
· Tends to be more focused on career and vocational orientation
· Courses generally more driven by industry and business needs than societal need
· Class sizes smaller on average
· Several campuses in different locations throughout a region of Ireland
· More pathways and links to further education (PLCs, traineeships, apprenticeships
· More regional remit, focused on the social and economic needs of their area