Tuesday 20 March 2018

Creation of a technological university sector will help drive the nation's growth

Much of the current political dialogue centres on austerity versus growth and recovery. In this context we repeatedly hear of an export led recovery. I would like to make the case for a higher education led recovery.

Firstly, higher education can make a significant direct contribution to exports through the provision of higher education to international students.

In Australia, higher education is the largest contributor to its services export figures. The UK has also had significant success in the export of higher education services.

The second area where higher education can make a significant impact is in supporting and promoting inward investment.

Along with location, competitiveness and favourable taxation, a progressive and engaged higher education system is commonly cited as the reason for multi-national corporations choosing to locate in Ireland.

The link between higher education and the ability to attract and retain inward investment is well established and supported by studies from the OECD, the EU, the World Bank and other such bodies.

Last but not least, higher education can make a major contribution to the development of indigenous enterprise.

For example, Cork Institute of Technology, in association with Enterprise Ireland, has operated the Genesis programme supporting enterprise start-up and development.

To date, this programme has resulted in 200 start-up companies, over €100m in investment and most importantly the creation of 2,400 jobs.

In this broader context the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 and the HEA Higher Education Landscape document take on particular significance.

The successful implementation of the strategy will provide a platform for converting investment in higher education by the State into tangible and productive outcomes.

I would argue that the creation of a technological university sector is the most significant recommendation in the strategy. A vibrant technological university sector would add new impetus and drive to the various growth-related activities outlined above.

Worldwide, the term university is commonly understood in the context of higher education provision but other higher education designations, such as polytechnic institute or institute of technology, are less well understood, and are often interpreted to mean a lower level or quality of activity to that of the traditional universities.

In the Irish context this interpretation could not be further from the truth. Our institutes of technology carry out the higher education activities to the highest international standards.

I believe that the creation of a technological university sector will assist in economic growth and recovery as well as promoting the employability of our graduates and ultimately delivering an increased and ongoing return on the State's investment in higher education.

Dr Brendan Murphy is President of Cork Institute of Technology

Irish Independent

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