Cog Notes: Dublin ITs steam ahead in university race

Regions may lose out in technological university drive

Ruairí Quinn used to describe the Junior Cert as a ‘low-stakes’ exam. Clearly not all of the participants – or their parents – agree. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

A progress report on the bids by several institutes of technology for university status comes before the Higher Education Authority this week, but already clear front-runners are emerging.

The collective bid by Dublin Institute of Technology, IT Blanchardstown and IT Tallaght is steaming ahead. It was the first to present its plans, along with the consortium of Cork IT and IT Tralee, to an international review panel pending a decision due around November on the state of applications.

The Technological Universities Bill has yet to be published, but DIT reckons it can cross the finish line with its partners within two years.

There will be a certain irony if Dublin is the first beneficiary of a policy that was designed to boost higher education in the regions – all the more so if a slow-starting Waterford IT, which is partnering with Carlow IT, eventually loses out.


The Government plan to create technological universities was primarily a response to pressure from the southeast for a university in Waterford. Where once a political decision might have come to its rescue, however, WIT now has to convince a panel of international experts chaired by Lauritz B Holm-Nielsen, a former Danish World Bank official.

Plainly there must be winners and losers – not all of the State’s 14 institutes of technology can become universities (although 11 are bidding for it) – but the Government will be hoping that no one gets any bad news on its watch.

It may see merit, then, in delaying the Bill just a little bit longer.

€127,000 shows some take the Junior Cert seriously

Some teachers took grave offence at the way former minister Ruairí Quinn used to describe the Junior Cert as a “low-stakes” exam, believing it devalued their efforts in the classroom.

But what do students themselves think? One intriguing indicator is that appeals to the State Examinations Commission against Junior Cert grades have increased in recent years. In 2004, there were 1,882 appeals. Since then, the number has risen steadily: to 2,986 in 2008, 3,881 in 2012 and 3,976 last year. (This compared with 9,098 Leaving Cert grade appeals.)

The highest number of Junior Cert appeals in 2013 were in English (885), followed by geography (507) and history (370).

When one considers the commission charges €32 charge for each appeal, that means students (or their parents) forked out €127,000 last year querying Junior Cert results, €32,000 of which was returned following upgrades.

Plainly, some people still take this exam very seriously.

A conga of colleges, anyone?

In advance of its latest rankings, published tomorrow, Times Higher Education has revealed “the formula for a world-class university”.

Now, never mind the fact that “world-class university” is as hackneyed a phrase as “state-of-the-art washing machine” or “top-of-the-range tumble dryer”. Consider whether higher education can, in fact, be reduced to “a formula”.

Well, in the world of Times Higher Education it can. "Firstly, you need serious money – it is essential to pay the salaries to attract and retain the leading scholars and to build the facilities needed," rankings editor Phil Baty says. Secondly, you have to provide "an intimate and intensive teaching environment", and "finally, and perhaps most importantly, a world-class university really must be international".

Needless to say, all seven Irish universities describe themselves as “world-class”, even if they fall short of the recommended Times Higher Education student-to-staff ratio of 11.7-1, and the target research income of $229,109 (€178,500) per academic. Which prompts the question: what is the collective noun for a group of “world-class universities”?

A conga, perhaps? An omnipresence? Ideas on a postcard, please.

A Capitol placement plan

Do you want to be the next Leo Varadkar? The Washington-Ireland Programme for Service and Leadership (WIP) is seeking third-level students to follow in the footsteps of its most famous alumnus. The scheme, which began 20 years ago as a peace-process initiative at Queen’s University

Belfast and is now funded by the Department of Education, the Northern Ireland Office and the US State Department, is taking 40 students “with a commitment to leadership” to Washington DC for summer work placements. These include internships on Capitol Hill and in the media or business.

The Minister for Health, who interned with Republican congressman Jack Quinn as a participant in the 2000 programme, is one of more than 450 alumni to date.

More than half the class are on full scholarships, benefiting from an average investment of €10,000 for each student over the six-month programme.

Applications for 2015 (see open on October 6th and close on November 30th.

A taste of the diplomatic life

The Department of Foreign Affairs is giving transition-year students a taste of the diplomatic circuit through its Global Horizons Youth Initiative. Some 30 TY students spend a week meeting diplomats on duty at home and abroad, and can visit Leinster House as well as foreign embassies in Dublin.
There was no mention of Ferrero Rocher, but they can "discuss and share their views on key issues in Ireland's foreign policy". As part of Diplomats in the Classroom, DFA officials are also available for school workshops.

Wellbeing conference

The SPHE (Social, Personal and Health Education) Network hosts a conference, Understanding Wellbeing in Changing Times: The Role of SPHE, in St. Patrick's College of Education, Drumcondra on October 4th. for details.