Technological University “Discussion”

In the week when Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn brought the Technological Universities Bill to cabinet, there was more than some disquiet from the commenterati that make up the usual pathetic discussion on higher education in Ireland. I don’t have any particular leaning for or against TU status for DIT. I think what we do, we do well, and we are one of the institutions in Ireland that genuinely differ from others in the type of graduates from our courses. Different doesn’t mean better or worse, it just means different. And in my own area at least, employers appear to like that difference very much. Our admissions profile also shows that the absence of the word “university” in our title does not deter would-be CAO students. So I have no particular leaning on status, and in fact worry about some of the Hunt Report considerations on making TU research “regional specific”. Research, by its very nature, is global. Cancer isn’t specific to Leinster south.

However, many commentators on this and other issues about DIT irritate me because it is quite clear that they do not know the institution about which they are speaking. They have an impression of what the institution is, perhaps from association with the other Institutes (mostly much smaller, and who collectively have their own lobby group, IOTI). Therefore many commentators attempt to make “academic” arguments, which barely cover this inherent, often uninformed, bias. Yesterday’s poorly written argument by Von Prond’ both argues for and against upgrading to university status, and for and against regional clustering, depending on what point he wished to make. He was taken to task on this by a commenter quite easily. Other commentators also mask what is in effect a kind of strange snobbery under the “standards” argument. I have worked in TCD, DCU, and DIT. I can say the following about DIT:

  • DIT is a member of the European Universities Association, along with University of Dublin, NUI, DCU, UL. It is only the Irish that have a problem with the U-word.
  • DIT awards its own degrees up to level 10. In fact it awards across a range from level 6 to level 10; the lower levels it does at a cost to its “intellectual” profile. Apprentice training means that the DIT staff profile has a lower ratio of PhDs.
  • DIT, like all ITs, is subject to the tyrannical 18/20 hour weekly contract. This makes it very, very difficult to do research when you teach as much as a secondary school teacher, and therefore you do less research. If I hope for one thing from University status, it is freedom from the constraints of this contract.
  • DIT is the only institution in Ireland which requires new staff members to complete a year-long course in Learning and Teaching methods.
  • As one of the “traditional” academics in DIT (PhD, post-doc, research profile, h-index better than those commenting on Von Prond’s blog), I can see easily what a diversity in staff backgrounds adds to courses. Colleagues with industry experience bring a different aspect to programme design and delivery that I certainly never saw in my own studies, or in my work in other institutions.

Let it be very clear: the only thing that matters about the name ‘university’ is marketing, and marketing to international students especially. Just go to the cinema and see how much universities are spending on marketing. UCD recently announced plans to take China by storm. International students are a form of self-generated income that cash-starved colleges could use. This debate is political, not academic. The Waterford case makes that plainly clear. Therefore those harping on about academic standards are either lusting after a lost world when an elite 15% of the population went to college, or more likely, are afraid of the competition from what will be Ireland’s largest university. Bring it on boys. Game on.