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The dynamics of human capital and the world of work

Towards a common market in contemporary tertiary education

Author - Aidan Kenny


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9 Irish Government Acts

The contemporary reform of tertiary education began in the 1990s. Specific Acts[12] detailed below are: the Dublin Institute of Technology Act 1992, the Universities Act 1997, the Institutes of Technology Act 2006, and the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act 1999.

The Dublin Institute of Technology Act 1992 began the process of positioning DIT[13] in an intermediate zone between the university sector and the IoT sector. It made DIT a special case, moving it away from the IoT sector and locating it nearer to the university sector. DIT was and still is by far the largest Institute of Technology in Ireland, having the most diverse range of programmes and an emerging research base. The DIT Act 1992 consists of 24 sections, providing details on such items as the legal establishment of DIT as an autonomous[14] institute, the structure, staffing and management of the Institute, the functions, financial and reporting requirements, and regulations. In this paper the main focus will be on the fifth section, the functions of the Institute (see extract in Appendix 1).

The Act states that ‘The principal function of the Institute shall be to provide vocational and technical education and training[15] for the economic, technological, scientific, commercial, industrial, social and cultural development of the State’. This was a very specific function which emerged from DIT’s historical involvement with vocational education and training. It positioned the relevance of DIT close to the world of work. The Act required DIT to provide courses of study for students, making awards at certificate and diploma level. Degree level awards were arranged in partnership with a university. (This type of partnership operated with Trinity College Dublin for a number of years during the 1990s.) The Institute could engage in research and consultancy and establish limited companies to exploit the potential outcomes from research and consultancy. The Institute, where it saw fit, could develop joint programmes with partners either inside or outside of the State. The Institute had independence to manage its own affairs in terms of administering its function and financial management. There were some restrictions where the Institute needed approval from the Minister such as acquiring or selling property.

The Irish Government Universities Act 1997 provided a new legal framework for the university sector in Ireland. The Act covers areas such as objects, structure, governance, staff, academic council, statutes, evaluation, financing, and amendments to previous Irish Government Acts. The main focus for this paper will be on Chapter 1 of the Act, ‘Objects and Functions’. In Chapter 1, Section 12 sets out twelve objects, Section 13 details eight functions and Section 14 deals with academic freedom (see Appendix 2). The objects include (a) to advance knowledge through teaching, scholarly research, and scientific investigation, (b) to promote learning (c) to promote the cultural and social life of society (d) to foster independent critical thinking amongst its students, (e) to promote the official language of the State (f) to contribute to the realisation of national economic and social development, (g) to educate, train and retrain higher level professional, technical and managerial personnel, (h) to promote the highest standards in, and quality of, teaching and research, (i) to disseminate the outcomes of its research, (j) to facilitate lifelong learning, (k) promote gender balance and equality of opportunities. The principle of academic freedom is assured throughout the Act: academic staff can challenge perceived knowledge and make claims that may be controversial and unpopular. Academic freedom is underpinned by tenure. The Act caters for both national and international collaborations with IHE, students, companies and organizations. The Act caters for the autonomy of financial, management and strategic activities of the university. The university has full degree-awarding powers and can work in partnership with other IHE or accredit programmes delivered elsewhere.

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