Technological Universities: regional institutions with global reach

Ireland’s third-level sector is undergoing a process of wide-ranging reform

The enactment of technological university legislation in 2018 marked the beginning of the latest chapter in the story to date of Ireland’s higher education sector.

First identified in the 1950s, the need for advanced technical education led to the establishment a decade later of regional technical colleges.

As they became increasingly geared towards catering to the educational and innovation demands of industry, they went on to become institutes of technology in the 1990s, before embarking in recent years on a merger process which would ultimately lead to university status.

A new type of higher education institution, the technological university (TU) model is intended to build on the strengths and mission of the former institutes of technology to develop “world-class” technological universities.

Writing in this supplement, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris makes the point that the traditional form of third-level education has been given more prominence above other approaches in Ireland over the years.

The newly-constituted technological universities are “not simply name changes”, he says, but are instead institutions that have “the ability to transform education” in Ireland.

Set up in part to address the social and economic needs of the country’s regions, TUs will focus on the production of skilled graduates from science- and technology-related programmes that are vocationally and professionally oriented.

They will offer qualifications across all levels encompassing apprenticeships, degrees, professional accreditations, master’s and PhDs.

A Technological University Transformation Fund has been created by the State to support the establishment of these new institutions and a new fund for research projects for TUs is soon to be launched.

“Levelling the funding playing field will enable TUs to make real inroads,” writes Harris.

For many students, going to college often means a move away from home. However, the pressure on the rental market in Ireland means the traditional route to third-level institutions has become considerably more expensive in recent years.

The idea of studying closer to home has become increasingly appealing and the consolidation of institutes of technology should mean the availability of a wide range of subject options in locations where rents should also be more affordable.

When it comes to services and facilities, TUs will offer much the same as the more traditional universities. Funding is to be made available for key capital investment priorities such as purpose-built on-campus accommodation for students - something that TUs see as an issue that needs to be urgently addressed.

Legislation

While legislation states that as few as two institutes of technology could come together and set out on the road to becoming a TU, each consortium applying for designation has had to achieve high standards across a number of key areas before achieving university status.

They range from the qualifications held by staff to the proportion of students engaged in life-long learning.

The first to receive TU status was TU Dublin, an amalgamation of DIT, IT Tallaght and IT Blanchardstown. That was followed last January by Munster Technological University, formerly Cork IT and IT Tralee, and the Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest, which was announced last October.

The fourth and most recently established TU, Atlantic Technological University (Ollscoil Teicneolaíochta an Atlantaigh), was officially launched earlier this month. Atlantic TU will see 21,000 students attending university campuses in counties Donegal, Sligo and Mayo for the first time while giving Galway city a second university option.

The final piece in the jigsaw will fall into place on May 1st when WIT and IT Carlow merge to create the South East Technological University.

By the time newly-enrolled students start their lessons in the autumn, 12 of the country’s 15 institutes of technology will have merged and Ireland will have five new TUs.

The new universities hope to be in a strong position to attract research funding and international students, as well as meeting the local and regional demand for education.

The provision of greater access to education is one key goal for each of the new technological universities. Earlier this month, Atlantic Technological University announced the launch of Higher Education 4.0, a €12.5 million project designed to transform how adult learners and employers engage with third-level.

In this special supplement, we take a look at each of the five new institutions. We examine the key differences between Technological Universities and traditional universities, we sample the types of courses on offer and examine what kind of educational experience students should expect from technological universities once college starts in the autumn.

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí is an Irish Times journalist and editor of the Irish Times Student Hub

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