Colleges in race to gain university status
INSTITUTES of technology are in a race to become Ireland's first technological university.
The proposal for one, or more, technological universities is part of a major shake-up in Irish higher education unveiled yesterday.
Colleges aspiring to the new status will have to meet strict conditions such as having a minimum number of students at masters and PhD level, and a minimum number of staff with such qualifications. All institutes of technology, with the exception of Dun Laoghaire College of Art and Design (IADT) are involved in one of four alliances bidding for the title.
Two groups -- one, involving Dublin Institute of Technology, (DIT), IT Tallaght and IT Blanchardstown and another in the south-east, involving Waterford and Carlow ITs are currently closest to meeting the conditions.
The bid from the south-east is being pushed strongly by Kilkenny-based Fine Gael minister Phil Hogan and his Labour cabinet colleague, Brendan Howlin of Wexford. It is expected to be at least four years before any final decision is taken. The third-level reform plans, unveiled by the Higher Education Authority (HEA), will also lead to fewer colleges and a slashing of the number of courses they offer.
The idea is not to reduce choice but to create centres of excellence specialising in particular fields of study.
Universities, institutes of technology and other publicly funded colleges have been told that they must co-operate more on a regional basis, consider mergers and eliminate wasteful duplication of courses. There is concern that the system is fragmented and has lost focus, with 44 colleges in the CAO offering about 1,400 courses. There are almost 900 honours degree programmes, up from 220 a decade ago.
Higher Education Authority (HEA) boss Tom Boland has written to college presidents giving them six months to produce plans for reform.
If they fall short, the HEA will insist on whatever changes it believes are necessary to create a more streamlined third-level system. The latest move arises from the publication last year of the National Strategy for Higher Education, setting out a vision to allow Ireland to compete with the best in the world.
Central to the reform plan is a replacement of the practice of giving grants based on a student head count to a more accountable funding mechanism, linking payment of state grants to performance targets.
The changed funding arrangements will pose major challenges for small colleges and will likely become a trigger for mergers.
Among the issues the HEA wants to tackle is the overlap of courses between colleges, such as the offering of more than 30 honours degree engineering programmes.
The proposed regional college clusters are intended as a mechanism for cost savings and greater efficiencies via shared purchases or services, joint teaching and research programmes, and even shared staff.
Colleges have also been told that they must become more flexible in how they offer courses, with a greater focus on online learning, evening and weekend classes.