How qualified is your lecturer?


There’s is no standard rule for the qualifications needed to lecture at third level – with some colleges settling for an honours degree, others requiring a PhD, writes GRAINNE FALLER

WHAT qualifications are needed to work as an academic in Ireland’s third- level institutions? Do you have to have a PhD or will a Masters do? What about a simple honours degree? Well, believe it or not, it appears to depend on the institution.

According to figures provided by third-level institutions to the Higher Education Authority (HEA), 92 per cent of full-time academic staff in NUIM hold PhDs, the equivalent figure in UL is 61 per cent.

Among the Institutes of Technology (ITs), 30 per cent of DIT’s full-time academic staff hold doctorates, but the proportion of staff with PhDs in Limerick IT is less than half of that figure at just 14 per cent.

Staff qualifications at third level is just one of the issues thrown into sharp focus by the provisions made in the National Strategy for Higher Education for the establishment of a new type of university – a technological university (TU).

The criteria for the establishment of a TU states that the new institution will offer programmes across the breadth of higher education, from Level 6 (diploma) through to Level 10 (PhD).

Its programmes of study will have a strong focus on science and technology and they will incorporate work placement. It will have strong links with both the region in which it is situated and with business and industry within that region. There will be appropriate provision of student services and there will be an active, problem-solving culture of research in the institution.

The TU will have to ensure a minimum number of PhD and Masters students as a proportion of overall enrolments (not less than four per cent). It will also be required to fulfil various research requirements including ensuring that the research that takes place can be compared to appropriate international benchmarks.

Another condition is that 45 per cent of full-time academic staff will hold a PhD, although up to 10 per cent of those may instead hold the equivalent of a PhD in professional experience. In addition to that, 90 per cent of full-time staff will hold at least a Level 9 (Masters) qualification – currently seen as one of the biggest barriers to the ability of an IOT to gain TU status.

Right now it is clear from figures, provided to the HEA by third-level institutions themselves, that ITs are a very long way from fulfilling these qualification requirements.

DIT, the IT with the highest proportion of full-time staff with PhDs (30 per cent), falls way short of the required 45 per cent. Indeed, UL, the university with the lowest proportion of PhDs among its full-time staff, still stands at double that of DIT with 61 per cent.

The two institutions mentioned most often in reference to a technological university in the south east – WIT and IT Carlow – currently operate with PhD levels of 26 and 18 per cent respectively.

But is it fair to compare? Remember that while universities provide for students studying from Level 7 (ordinary degree) onwards. It’s only natural that an academic teaching students aiming for a Level 7 or 8 qualification, be qualified to Level 9 at the very least.

ITs, on the other hand, have many students who are studying at Level 6 (diploma) and Level 7. With a smaller proportion of staff teaching at Level 8 and upwards, it could be argued that the smaller proportion of PhDs among staff makes a certain amount of sense.

A TU would still offer programmes from Level 6 upwards but proportionally it would have to make a huge jump in terms of staff with PhDs and it would be required to have a greater proportion of staff qualified to at least Level 9 than one existing university.

On the other hand, in terms of PhDs, 45 per cent is still well below the level of the existing universities and although it’s a big jump, some would argue that it is necessary. No doubt the debate will continue.



NUIM tops the PhD table as the only institution in the country to break the 90 per cent mark – 92 per cent of its full-time academic staff holds doctorates. NUIG and TCD follow with 84 and 82 per cent of staff with doctorates respectively. DCU comes in at 77 per cent.

The figure for UCD is somewhat different, as 72 per cent is the proportion of its total academic staff (both full and part-time) have PhDs.

The figures for other institutions are a proportion of full-time staff only. UCC and UL are at the lower end of the university scale with 66 and 61 per cent of staff holding PhDs.

DIT tops the IT list with 30 per cent of its full-time academic staff holding PhDs. Athlone IT and IT Tallaght follow with 29 per cent each.

WIT and IT Blanchardstown are the only other ITs in which at least a quarter of staff are qualified to PhD level. Just 14 per cent of Limerick IT’s full-time academic staff hold PhDs.

Another four institutions show proportions of less than 20 per cent – Letterkenny IT (16 per cent), IT Carlow and GMIT (18 per cent each) and IT Tralee (19 per cent). Dundalk IT clocks in with 23 per cent – the same proportion as Sligo IT – while CIT’s PhD proportion is 20 per cent.


While some ITs have relatively low proportions of staff with PhDs, most are qualified to Level 9 –

76 per cent of staff in Tralee IT, for example, hold Masters degrees. IT Blanchardstown and Letterkenny IT follow with 71 and 70 per cent of staff at Level 9 respectively. More than 60 per cent of staff in IT Tallaght, IT Sligo, GMIT, Dundalk IT, Limerick IT and IT Carlow have Masters degrees.


All full-time academic staff in NUIG and UCC hold at least a Level 9 qualification. This is closely followed by DCU and TCD at 99 per cent and NUIM at 98 per cent. Interestingly, IT Tralee and IT Blanchardstown are next at

95 per cent each, while IT Tallaght is at 90 per cent, so all three meet the TU requirement that 90 per cent or more of full-time academic staff hold at least a Level 9 qualification.

Again, UCD’s figure of 91 per cent is a proportion of all, rather than full-time academic staff.

At UL 83 per cent of staff hold at least a Level 9 qualification – the lowest proportion of all the universities and it falls behind a good number of ITs as well.

While its PhD rate of 61 per cent is still double that of the ITs with the highest proportion of PhDs, it is the lowest of the universities.

IT Carlow and Athlone IT also come in at 83 per cent; 84 per cent of WIT’s full-time staff hold at least a Level 9 qualification. Sligo IT and Letterkenny IT are both at 86 per cent while 87 per cent of Dundalk IT’s full-time staff have at least a Masters degree.

With 75 per cent, CIT is at the bottom of the scale. DIT comes in at 78 per cent and LIT at 79 per cent while 81 per cent of GMIT full-time staff have at least a Masters degree.