Athlone IT makes a bid for university status

All but three of State’s 14 institutes of technology have indicated a wish to become technological universities

Athlone IT

has become the latest institute of technology to make a bid for university status. All but three of the State’s 14 institutes of technology have now indicated their intention to apply to become technological universities under forthcoming legislation.

In a strategic plan published yesterday, the third-level institution sets targets on increasing its international student numbers and boosting its research capacity but it has not yet agreed any formal partnership with a fellow institute.

An expected criterion for becoming a technological university is that the applicant IT agrees to merge or cluster with another.


Athlone IT said it was “not in any discussions with any single partner” for now, but it was open to collaborations and believed that pursuing university status would help raise standards at the college in any event.

Number of targets

Under its plan, the IT sets a number of targets, including increasing its postgraduate research enrolments by 30 per cent by 2018; doubling the level of technology licensed to companies; boosting its intake of further education learners by 25 per cent, and increasing the international student intake from 11 per cent of the student population to 15 per cent.

Launching the plan in Athlone, guest speaker Prof Simon Marginson from the University of London suggested that the Government might relook at the necessity for ITs to have strategic partners in order to apply for university status.

While “mergers will strengthen the emerging TU sector”, he said there was a “danger” this obligation would create “inflexibility and you can get into a situation where the formula is driving the policy, rather than the policy using the formula as a tool, for achieving a better social and economic outcome”.

AIT president Prof Ciarán Ó Catháin admitted becoming a technological university was “an ambitious goal”, but “when you examine the criteria for TU status published by the Government, it quickly becomes apparent that AIT is one of the leaders in terms of reaching those metrics.

“We are to the forefront in terms of the percentage of staff with PhDs, research activity, the diverse nature of our student population and so on. That excellence in performance spurs us on to even greater goals.”

€6m to be raised

To deliver on the targets, the institute needs to raise €6 million a year from non-exchequer sources. Among the mechanisms for generating this will be the provision of international campus management services and the development of a high-performance sport centre of excellence, it says.

The collective bid by DIT, Tallaght IT and Blanchardstown IT is the most advanced among four planned cluster applications for university status. The other three comprise Letterkenny, Sligo and Galway-Mayo in the northwest, Waterford and Carlow in the east, and Cork and Tralee in the south.

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column