THE President of Dundalk Institute of Technology has slammed what he perceives as an inherent elitism in the Irish third level education system.
Dennis Cummins wrote an article in the Irish Times this week, referring to views he perceives as being held in some universities that: “There may be an element of those who are already in the club not wishing to share the locker room with new members but this is often presented as wishing to ensure the diversity of the overall system. Yes, diversity is important and so is parity of esteem.”
Mr Cummins also wrote about the positive impact that Institutes of Technology have had on the broader Irish education system.
He writes how being the first of a family to attend third level can have positive effect on families from background which would have previously been met with a glass ceiling.
“Today, the numbers of students entering higher education through the doors of the IoT and the universities have equalised. What is different is that many of our IoT students are, like me, the first generation in their families to enter higher education.
“The IoTs have had a transformative impact on the regions they serve. They have unquestionably improved the life chances of their graduates, but this will also impact upon future generations since almost all who get a higher education will strive to ensure that their children achieve this too.”
Yet Cummins was scathing in what he refers to as “negative perceptions and old-fashioned academic elitism.”
“Some commentators appear to have an outdated view of the sector. Prof James Browne of NUIG, writing in this column some weeks ago, proposed that in a cluster arrangement with universities, IoTs could offer “certificates and diplomas”.
This is despite the fact that degrees were introduced in the sector over two decades ago; that they now represent the basic entry level required by most employers in a knowledge-based economy; and that changes to the award structures in the IoTs have been enshrined in the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) since 2003-2004. In the same article, Prof Browne only reluctantly accepts that the evolution of some IoT to technological universities is now Government policy.
“Another concern which appears to be made by higher education policy makers only in relation to the IoT sector is to check against “mission drift”. The concern here is to ensure that IoTs remain firmly embedded at levels six and seven on the national framework; and that IoTs refrain from offering programmes in disciplines perceived to be “owned” by the traditional universities. I reject both. The former on the basis of the requirements of our knowledge economy and the latter because the institutes have approached disciplines in innovative ways using their acknowledged strengths in the application of technology.”