Quinn hints DIT group leads way in university race
EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn has set himself up for a public spat with his Fine Gael cabinet colleague Phil Hogan over which institutes of technology are most likely to get university status.
The minister indicated that the Dublin-based alliance of DIT, IT Blanchardstown and IT Tallaght was the frontrunner of the three groups seeking the new technological university (TU) ranking.
Speaking at an Oireachtas Education Committee meeting, Mr Quinn said that while he could not prejudice the expert group that will decide the matter, it was clear the DIT-led alliance was in a "different position" to bids from Waterford IT/IT Carlow or Cork IT/ITTralee.
Environment Minister Phil Hogan has been a champion of the Waterford/Carlow alliance to create a university in the south-east.
While all three applications could ultimately be successful, the minister's public advocacy of one over the other is bound to ruffle feathers, both politically and among staff and supporters of those IT colleges seeking an upgrade.
The Cabinet recently gave the go-ahead to the three alliances to move on to the next stage of seeking TU designation, on the basis that they all had potential to meet the required criteria, which includes quality of research activity, having a minimum number of post-graduate students and staff with post-graduate and doctorate qualifications.
The next step is to submit their plans for meeting the criteria to an independent international panel that will decide if an application can proceed.
Mr Quinn stressed the importance of proceeding carefully with the designation of universities, particularly in the light of the "damage" caused in Britain when then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher renamed all polytechnical colleges universities.
He said the move had caused "great damage to the overall infrastructure of education in England" and it was important to remember the difference between changing the name over the door and changing what happens inside.
The minister was responding to a question by Fianna Fail Deputy Charlie McConalogue, who wondered if those institutes of technology that were not being considered for university status might become a "lower tier" as a result of the differentiation.