A SPATIOTEMPORAL PERSPECTIVE OF IRELAND’S HIGHER EDUCATION SECTOR

Ireland’s higher education is now, according to the Higher Education Authority (HEA) – the statutory planning and policy development for higher education and research in the country – provided mainly by seven Universities, 14 Institutes of Technology, including Dublin Institute of Technology and seven Colleges of Education (Table 1). There are also a number of third level institutions which provide specialist education in such fields as art and design, medicine, business studies, rural development, theology, music and law.

Table 1 List of main Irish higher education institutions (HEIs)

Universities

Name

County

Established

Trinity College Dublin

Dublin

1592

National University of Ireland, Maynooth

Kildare

1795

National University of Ireland, Galway

Galway

1845

University College Cork

Cork

1845

University College Dublin

Dublin

1854

University of Limerick

Limerick

1972

Dublin City University

Dublin

1975

Institutes of Technology

Name

County

Established

Dublin Institute of Technology

Dublin

1887

Athlone Institute of Technology

Westmeath

1970

Dundalk Institute of Technology

Louth

1970

Institute of Technology Carlow

Carlow

1970

Institute of Technology Sligo

Sligo

1970

Waterford Institute of Technology

Waterford

1970

Letterkenny Institute of Technology

Donegal

1971

Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology

Galway

1972

Cork Institute of Technology

Cork

1974

Limerick Institute of Technology

Limerick

1975

Institute of Technology Tralee

Kerry

1977

Institute of Technology Tallaght

Dublin

1992

Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology

Dublin

1997

Institute of Technology Blanchardstown

Dublin

1999

Colleges of Education

Name

County

Established

Church of Ireland College of Education

Dublin

1811

Marino Institute of Education

Dublin

1874

St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra

Dublin

1875

Froebel College of Education

Dublin

1943

St. Angela’s College

Sligo

1952

Mater Dei Institute of Education

Dublin

1966

Mary Immaculate College

Limerick

1991

Source: Author’s own elaboration.

Universities

Trinity College Dublin (TCD) – founded in 1592 – is Ireland’s oldest university, as well as one of the seven ancient universities of Great Britain and Ireland. Whilst the National University of Ireland, Maynooth (NUIM) only became a constituent university of the National University of Ireland back to 1997, in which year the Universities Act 1997 was put in force, it has been formed from St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, which itself was founded in 1795. In the 19th century, three more universities were founded in Ireland, namely National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG), University College Cork (UCC) and University College Dublin (UCD). John Henry Newman, the author of The Idea of a University, was appointed the first rector of UCD when it was originally created in 1854 as the Catholic University of Ireland. Towards the 1970s, the picture of Ireland’s universities was completed following the establishment of University of Limerick (UL) and Dublin City University (DCU). These two institutions were elevated to university status in 1989 in accordance with the University of Limerick Act 1989 and the Dublin City University Act 1989 respectively.

Institutes of Technology

Formerly known as Regional Technical Colleges, Institutes of Technology represent another type of higher education institution in Ireland, with their main focus on providing technical education. The idea of the institutions was announced in the 1960s when a series of government reports, such as Training for Technicians in Ireland (1964), identified significant skills gaps in technicians. In 1967, the Steering Committee on Technical Education released the Mulcahy Report (1967), which was recognised as an important milestone in defining the functions of the colleges. For instance, it stated that,

“We believe that the long-term function of the colleges will be to educate for trade and industry over a broad spectrum of occupations ranging from craft to professional, notably in engineering and science but also in commercial, linguistic and other specialities. They will, however, be more immediately concerned with providing courses aimed at filling gaps in the industrial manpower structure, particularly in the technician area.”

The first five institutions formally opened their doors in 1970, while five more colleges were added within the same decade. Finally, three additional colleges were created in the 1990s, bringing the total number to 13. The law with respect to these 13 institutions, which are now represented by Institutes of Technology Ireland (IOTI), was further amended by the Institutes of Technology Act 2006. Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) has been an exception in the fact that, although it was the first third level college to be called an Institute of Technology (IT), it has been created under separate legislation with different powers than the other 13 college. One may see that DIT now has a variety of powers closely comparable to those of a university, despite its application for university designation in 1996 was declined.

Colleges of Education

As shown in table 1, the seven Colleges of Education – which provide the qualification generally required to teach in Irish primary schools – tend to have a long history. More recently, each of these colleges has become affiliated with one Irish university in terms of degree awarding. For instance, Mater Dei Institute of Education and St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra are actually linked colleges of DCU. Considering their primary focus on education qualification, it is not surprising to find Colleges of Education are generally much smaller in size in comparison to the other two types of institutions.

Size expansion and geographic dispersion

Therefore, the higher education sector in Ireland has experienced considerable expansion over the last few centuries, with the pace of change accelerating dramatically since the 1970s. Nevertheless, it is not only about increasing the number. From a spatial perspective, Ireland has seen its higher education institutions evolve from being concentrated in a few large cities to being dispersed throughout the country. Table 2 below shows the number of Irish HEIs and their locations from 1600 to 2000. The expansion process was relatively moderate until 1960, by which year a total of 11 institutions were situated within five Irish counties. Within the next two decades, the number of HEIs more than doubled to 24, spanning across 12 counties.

Table 2 A spatiotemporal evolution of Irish HEIs

Year (up to)

No. of HEIs

No. of counties

Counties

1600

1

1

Dublin

1700

1

1

Dublin

1800

2

2

Dublin, Kildare

1900

9

4

Dublin, Kildare, Galway, Cork

1950

10

4

Dublin, Kildare, Galway, Cork

1960

11

5

Dublin, Kildare, Galway, Cork, Sligo

1970

17

9

Dublin, Kildare, Galway, Cork, Sligo, Westmeth, Louth, Carlow, Waterford

1980

24

12

Dublin, Kildare, Galway, Cork, Sligo, Westmeth, Louth, Carlow, Waterford, Limerick, Donegal, Kerry

1990

24

12

Dublin, Kildare, Galway, Cork, Sligo, Westmeth, Louth, Carlow, Waterford, Limerick, Donegal, Kerry

2000

28

12

Dublin, Kildare, Galway, Cork, Sligo, Westmeth, Louth, Carlow, Waterford, Limerick, Donegal, Kerry

Source: Author’s own elaboration.

To a large extent, this significant development could be attributed to the establishment of Institutes of Technology, which aim to bridge regional skill gaps. An important point to take in is that a regional dimension was by then introduced into the higher education sector. While universities, especially those research-intensive ones, tend to focus on national research priorities, institutes of technology serve as an important source of knowledge and graduates on the regional level. Therefore, it seems essential to examine the economic and innovation impact of Irish HEIs at both national and regional levels. It is possible that, although an institution may not be influential when compared with all the other HEIs in the country, it is rather important in local and regional knowledge networks.