Establishment of technological universities opposed

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Heads of the seven universities warn it would be "reckless" to pursue radical changes to higher education "when the survival of the system is under threat".

A confidential discussion paper prepared by the Irish Universities Association for the HEA (seen by The Irish Times) is being considered by the college heads.

The document says any change to the higher education system must recognise “the very poor and deteriorating financial position” of the university sector.

The establishment of new technological universities will only “give rise to additional costs and fragmentation of research”, it says.

Ministers for the Environment Phil Hogan and Public Service Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin are both backing moves which would merge the institutes of technology in Waterford and Carlow and establish a new technological university of the southeast.

One senior university figure said "this whole process is being driven by local politics instead of education priorities; we cannot allow it to happen.”

The discussion document says there is “no persuasive evidence that the demand for quality, advanced technical education cannot be met within the existing system of seven universities and 14 institutes of technology”.

It says a significant “re-engineering” would be required to bring many ITs up to the standard expected of universities or highly regarded technological universities in other countries.

The paper points to the relatively low number of PhD students in the institutes when compared to the university sector.

It acknowledges, however, that Waterford IT, Cork IT and DIT are different from other institutes in terms of both overall scale and involvement in research and graduate education.

The seven presidents stress how the funding crisis is the most important issue facing the sector in delivering on its internal goals and on external expectations.

“We know that the system is seriously underfunded. Within the system, there are indications that the IoT sector is relatively better funded than the universities. Therefore, any plans to establish new universities cannot result in a further hollowing out or cannibalisation of university funding.

“This issue needs to be addressed at an early stage with detailed, costed plans for any structural changes and transparency on how [and from what sources] those plans are to be resourced.”

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