University heads deny accusations of elitism


THE SEVEN university presidents have denied charges of academic elitism after raising concerns about the possible establishment of a Technological University (TU) in the south-east.

As they met in DCU yesterday, five more institutes of technology in the Border, Midlands and West (BMW) region said they were at an “advanced stage’’ of discussions regarding the establishment of a technological university.

Given Government approval, they say a Border Midlands West Technological University (BMW TU) would create the largest higher education institution in the State with 27,000 students. A steering group comprising senior staff at Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT), Dundalk Institute of Technology, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Letterkenny Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology, Sligo, is directing the negotiations.

The move by the BMW colleges raised the possibility of at least two and possibly many more technological universities.  TU status for the south-east – which has the strong backing of Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin, who are from the region – is regarded as virtually certain by education sources. This would bring together the institutes of technology in Waterford and Carlow.

An application is also expected from a Dublin TU group comprising the Dublin Institute of Technology and the institutes in Tallaght and Blanchardstown.

Ned Costello, chief executive of the Irish Universities Association, representing the university presidents, said: “This is not a question of us being elitist”.

He said it would not serve the country well if we had a range of new universities which do not “walk, talk or act like” a university. He pointed out that the average number of PhD students in the institutes was about 30 per college, compared with an average of over 1,000 in the universities.

It would, he said, take an “enormous leap’’ for most of the institutes to transform themselves into a university. Mr Costello said the Government – in establishing possible new higher education structures – must be mindful of the funding crisis facing the sector.

The Higher Education Authority will shortly publish the criteria for the establishment of a TU. Once approved by Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn, any of the 14 institutes will be free to apply for TU status.

On the BMW development, AIT president Ciarán Ó Catháin said: “We are looking to create a differentiated institution, one that will be known for the excellence of its teaching and learning, and for its close collaboration with industry.Such a technological university will be much more than the sum of its parts; it will be a powerful agent of change in higher education for all the communities and stakeholders involved.”

Criteria for the technological universities are due to be published next month.