Fine Gael proposes shake-up at third level


A RADICAL shake-up in the third-level sector in which the 14 institutes of technology would come under one "umbrella university", as well as the granting of university status to Waterford IT and Dublin IT, are the main features of a new Fine Gael strategy unveiled yesterday.

Fine Gael education spokesman Brian Hayes said the current policy of keeping the seven universities and institutes of technology separate was no longer the best option for the sector.

"Irish higher education needs a renewed focus on research, targeted funding and a knowledge economy that thrives on the co-existence of universities and IoTs operating side by side.

"We need to begin a process of revamping this sector to enable it to meet all challenges ahead."

Fine Gael is also pressing for precise new criteria for university status. At present, Waterford IT and the Dublin Institute of Technology are seeking university designation but the precise criteria for assessing these applications is unclear. Fine Gael says both should secure university status - provided they meet this new criteria.

Mr Hayes said the IoT sector has served Ireland well but it still suffers problems. Many IoT graduates find it hard to explain to prospective employers outside Ireland what exactly an IoT is and where it fits into the higher education spectrum. There is also considerable disparity between the academic options and the range of courses available in the various IoTs, with accompanying problems with research, he said.

The Fine Gael plan would establish a new National Technological University with individual IoTs linked as constituent colleges. This would, it says, allow the IoT sector to concentrate on matching technological and emerging employment needs, albeit under an overarching national framework. The new university would become the awarding body for all courses offered by IoTs.