University or university of technology – what’s in a name?

University or university of technology – what’s in a name? For most people, the creation of four new “universities of technology,” or UTs — formed from mergers of institutes of technology — means little more than a brand change.

Where are the technological universities?

Instead of going to DIT, IT Tallaght or IT Blanchardstown, students now go to Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin); they do not attend CIT or Tralee IT, but instead are students at Munster University of Technology (MTU); AIT and LIT students find themselves attending the (somewhat cumbersome) Shannon University of Technology: Midlands Midwest, abbreviated as TUS.

There are now two new additions to the TU parade: Atlantic Technological University, formed in April 2022 from the merger of Galway-Mayo IT, IT Sligo and Letterkenny Institute of Technology, and South East Technological University, created in May 2022 from from a merger of Waterford Institute of Technology and IT Carlow.

Why are there technological universities?

The idea was first mentioned in recession-ravaged 2009, when An Bord Snip Nua called on institutes of technology to merge to cut costs.

However, as the economy slowly but surely improved, it was less about saving money than making it.

International students – a major source of income for the cash-strapped tertiary sector – were willing to pay to study abroad, despite not knowing what an “institute of technology” was, putting IoT at an immediate competitive disadvantage. . But they knew what ‘university’ meant in ‘university of technology’.

Additionally, there was a feeling that third tiers outside the larger urban areas of Cork, Dublin, Galway and Limerick were being left behind; Waterford, in particular, had long harbored ambitions to be a university; UL’s founding president and an influential voice in education, Professor Edward Walsh, said “the need for a comprehensive university, the University of Waterford, in the South East remains”.

Now students in and around Carlow, Donegal, Kerry, Roscommon, Sligo, Waterford and Westmeath – who may not be able to afford to leave their homes to attend university due to the high cost of rent and life, not to mention college expenses – can potentially live at home while pursuing a college education.

“Mergers cost money, especially in the early years,” says Professor Vincent Cunnane, president of TUS. “Our strategy is to grow and expand our student base and keep students in the region, educated and trained around our campus, employed by stakeholders in the region, and create families who live, work and play. in areas close to TUS.”

Dr Mary Meaney, Registrar and Vice President of TU Dublin, says their creation meant one institution with a collective and strategic approach instead of three institutions competing with each other.

Tom Boland, former CEO of the Higher Education Authority and a key figure in the creation of TUs, is now a partner at education consultancy BH Associates.

“Kerry was focused on Kerry and Cork on Cork, but now [MTU]can focus on the region rather than their locality,” he says.

It was always expected that similar departments on different campuses of former IoTs would develop closer ties, but geography remained a factor for, say, a worker in Cork who was considering a refresher course in Kerry. Now, of course, technology and the great advances in online and blended learning brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic have accelerated these connections.

“We hope to see a student, for example, in the most remote part of Donegal, now able to access the collective of all programs in a TU [such as ATU] can offer,” says Boland.

How is a technology university different?

There’s more to it than just changing stationery and plates, and students can expect a different kind of educational experience at one of the UTs. IoTs could not just decide to become a tech university or merge with another IoT because they wanted to: they had to meet strict targets regarding both the quality of their research and their teaching. From the start of the process, it set them on a clear path to being better, stronger and more resilient.

The presidents of TU news all emphasize their close ties to the industry. In an earlier interview with this reporter for this newspaper, MTU President Professor Maggie Cusack said they “will not teach philosophy” as they are about work-based learning and preparing graduates for the world Labor – a statement that drew criticism online. and also angered some of his college colleagues.

In particular, some of the online comments stated that education should be more than just finding a job, and that the philosophy prepares a graduate both for work and to be an active and contributing member of society.

But Cusack’s statement effectively sums up — in one controversial word — what really sets TU apart from traditional universities. Before being UTs, they were institutes of technology, and before that, regional technical colleges which, unlike universities, had to focus on training graduates for specific jobs in specific workplaces.

The UTs have retained this mission – and this is fundamentally what distinguishes them from more traditional universities, which have tended towards – to borrow from philosophical thought – a more “Humboldtian” teaching model, centered on the links between science and humanities and the production of knowledgeable human beings and citizens beyond a narrower focus on the production of workers and entrepreneurs. Ultimately, students will decide which model of education they want.

These are distinctions that can, and will, sometimes be blurred. UCD, for example, has recently criticized its ties to the Chinese government-funded Confucius Institute. .

Meanwhile, a growing number of universities have deepened their links with industry – internships in industry are a common component of courses these days – and are now actively promoting themselves as institutions that can help graduates find a good job. But TU says entrepreneurship and innovation are more fully embedded in their DNA, with collaboration with industry at the heart of how they teach students.

Another key difference that TUs will highlight is the way they deliver apprenticeship programs, which start at level six of the National Qualifications Framework, through level seven regular degrees, honors level eight degrees, level nine postgraduate degrees and level 10 doctorates, while most universities only offer level 8 to 10 programs.

UTs, on average, offer more delivery channels, and while traditional universities have expanded their options for upskilling, retraining, and continuing professional development in recent years, UTs still retain an edge here.

Dr Mary Meaney, Vice-President and Registrar of TU Dublin, says more students mean more opportunities when it comes to clubs and societies, especially at athlete level. elite.

Indeed, while the reduced number of students limited the number of student clubs and societies that could reasonably thrive, the creation of UT meant more students and therefore more chances to get involved.

What hasn’t changed?

For most students, the everyday university experience will be the same, and it may seem like there is indeed little difference between the old IoT and the new TU. They may not immediately notice the regional impact of their new UT or how different courses or programs have changed.

Importantly, there is still a relative distance between, say, the Athlone and Limerick campuses of TUS, or the Galway and Letterkenny campuses of ATU, which means that all students involved in a club or society in individual cannot simply join their friends by taking a short bus ride between campuses. With the exception of TU Dublin, where students can hop on the Luas Red Line between Tallaght and Grangegorman, most of the various TU campuses remain a place apart.

Technological universities: the main differences for students


  • Tends to focus more on general intellectual development
  • Courses generally (but less so in recent years) more focused on societal needs
  • Larger class sizes on average
  • A dominant central campus, with smaller centers of learning or affiliated institutions sometimes scattered nearby or elsewhere in Ireland.
  • Fewer courses and links to continuing education (PLC, internships, apprenticeships).
  • national mission

Technological University:

  • Tends to be more career and career-oriented
  • Courses generally more geared towards the needs of industry and business than the needs of society
  • Smaller class sizes on average
  • Multiple campuses at different locations in one region of Ireland
  • More courses and links to continuing education (PLC, internships, apprenticeships)
  • A more regional mission, centered on the social and economic needs of their territory
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