Union concern at rush to achieve university status
Institutes told not to lose 'dirty overalls'
Institutes of Technology (ITs) must not lose sight of their original mission in their drive to achieve university status, a union leader said yesterday.
The institutes announced recently that they are seeking an upgrading to a national technological university.
But Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) general secretary Peter McMenamin said it must not lead to a drift from the provision of apprenticeship and technological courses.
The TUI represents about 4,000 lecturers in the institutes, and Mr McMenamin said they would welcome increased access to more university-level courses.
But he insisted that the TUI would "oppose any withdrawal by an institute from the broad range of course levels currently provided".
He said they would "welcome further development of courses at degree, post-graduate and doctoral levels, while continuing to pursue the original mission of provision of apprentice- ship and technological courses".
Mr McMenamin said a major strength of the IT sector in the emergent context of lifelong learning was that, in addition to degree and post-graduate courses, they catered for students at certificate and diploma level, and apprentices.
"This should continue, irrespective of the institutional aspiration of any particular institute," he said.
He expressed concern about apprenticeship courses and said there was a fear that some institutes would want to drop them, to "get rid of the dirty overalls and bring in nice, clean professional courses instead".
He said that if Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) were to become a university, "we will have to re-invent DIT".
They were not opposed to university status, their concern is that the colleges should at least maintain the mission they already had. If they wanted to stretch beyond that, that was fine as long as it is not at the expense of the lower-level qualifications, he said.
He referred to the 2004 OECD report on Higher Education in Ireland, which recommended that there be no further institutional transfer to the university sector.
DIT and Waterford IT have led the charge for university status and the other 12 institutes have now followed suit.
A recent consultant's report found that Waterford IT has "an academic maturity and an activity profile" similar to universities in Ireland and other western countries and fulfilled many of the broader roles of a university.
The report is now being considered by the Government and while Waterford's case is being championed by local minister Martin Cullen, he has admitted that the debate within Government on the issue is "robust".