To Be Honest: an Institute of Technology lecturer says Technological Universities are a bad idea and will fail

 

It is hard to see how the planned technological universities will either create more jobs or garner more research funding, as their advocates suggest. It is also hard to see how they will be anything other than a re-branding exercise which will see the new “TUs” competing with traditional universities in a “me too” manner for the same pool of State research funding.

The Institutes of Technology (IoT) do a good job of providing sub-degree, vocational, trade and academic provision. They have some very good researchers but these are increasingly affected by a lack of critical mass and many of their research links are with universities inside and outside the State.

There is an argument to be made for eliminating course duplication, where many colleges have small student intakes as they offer similar courses to other colleges nearby. But forming technological universities is a very expensive way to facilitate this.

Why not get the Higher Education Authority (HEA), and by extension the Minister for Education, to request IoTs to become constituent colleges of proximate universities, such as the Carlow Institute of Technology CIT with UCC, Dundalk Institute of Technology with DCU and so on? That would reduce duplication and there would be little need for re-branding or mission re-definition.

The reason this won’t happen is the rampant egos of IoT senior managers who, in their headlong rush for TU status, have not really involved staff. For the proposed Dublin Technological University, for example, an accountancy firm has drawn up a 130-page plan and it has been presented as a fait accompli to staff.

As one of those staff it is hard to have confidence in the process. One only has to think of the egregious practices in Tralee and Waterford, both at the highest level, to be concerned. And university presidents only have one 10-year term, yet at least four IoT presidents have had their 10-year terms renewed and each will have served 20 years in office by the end of their tenure. Perhaps they are “the special ones” who have superior skills to their university counterparts? Perhaps not.

What they are doing will lead to a three-tier system, as many IoTs are either not planning to be part of TUs or they are a long way from meeting the criteria, such as they can be understood. It would be better if the Minister left them as they are, resourced them to teach what they do best and encouraged the universities and the IoTs to leave their self-interest at the door and reduce course duplication. The proposed TUs will cost a lot more money and won’t increase research quality or the number of jobs in local economies.

A better plan is laid out in the Hunt report which encourages clusters, instead of ill-thought out TUs which don’t have the buy-in of the staff who will ultimately be doing the teaching and the research.

This column gives a voice to those interested in education. Contributions welcome to education@irishtimes.com

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