IRELAND: Race to be technological first

Ireland's institutes of technology are scrambling to hold merger discussions to become the country's first technological university. This follows a long awaited and much leaked national strategy report which ruled out upgrading existing institutes but held out the prospect of merged institutes, over time, applying for designation as technological universities.

Even before the report was released, four institutes in the greater Dublin area confirmed that they had been involved in talks. Since then, others have announced that they are holding similar discussions.

There are 14 institutes of technology in Ireland - the oldest in Dublin was set up 120 years ago while the remainder have been in existence for up to 40 years. They tend to be primarily vocational and practical in focus but many have developed significant research capacity in recent years.

Three - Dublin, Waterford and Cork - had separately applied for upgrading to full university status but that is now off the agenda since the strategy report ruled out any further traditional universities.

Instead merged institutions could seek redesignation as technological universities which would have a particular focus on courses in engineering and technology and include an emphasis on workplace learning.

The Dublin Institute of Technology, Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Institute of Technology Blanchardstown, and Institute of Technology Tallaght have announced that they plan to work towards creating what they say will be the university of the future in Dublin.

They promise a civic and technological institution that would provide a world-class experience for students, develop graduates who would respond to the needs of society, and would stand with the leaders among the technological universities across Europe and worldwide.

Outside of the capital, the two biggest institutes - in Cork and Waterford - have opened discussions on a possible tie-up, even though they are 124 kilometres apart. Cork institute president Dr Brendan Murphy said he believed that Ireland needed to create a small number of entrepreneurial, multi-campus technological universities which delivered career-focused education for future professionals and practitioners.

The Carlow and Limerick institutes, which are 138 kilometres apart, have entered into a strategic alliance to enhance the provision of higher education, research, training and enterprise support activities in their associated regions. The signing of a Memorandum of understanding the week before the national strategy was officially launched came after several months of intensive discussions and the successful completion of several joint projects.

There are seven traditional universities in Ireland which has a population of just over four million. Education ministry sources have suggested that a further four to five technological universities could emerge within the next decade.