Institutes get PhD
awarding powers

20 Sep 2005

The Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC) has passed over the findings of last year’s OECD high-profile educational review of Ireland by giving three institutes of technology – Cork Institute of Technology, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and Waterford Institute of Technology – the power to award their own PhDs.

These institutes now have degree awarding powers that are comparable to universities and a high level of autonomy in respect of research degree programmes. The 10 remaining institutes are also free to apply for HETAC accreditation to make doctorate awards and at least one of them, Sligo Institute, is believed to be at an advanced stage in preparing its application.

The OECD Review, published in September 2004, recommended that the awarding of research degrees be concentrated in the universities. HETAC said it disagreed with this recommendation because it was “not in keeping with the principles of subsidiarity and access to qualifications” and also said it disagreed with the OECD suggestion that doctoral-level research in the institutes could only be done under the supervision of a university and that any doctoral-awarding powers granted to the institutes by HETAC be rescinded.

“The OECD recommendation that doctoral-awarding powers be removed from institutes would de-motivate researchers working at this level in the sector and make it more difficult to attract research-active staff who could contribute to the quality of taught programmes at bachelor and masters levels,” said HETAC chief executive Séamus Puirséil, making the announcement.

He added that the decision would bring significant advantages to their surrounding regions and benefit the economy as a whole.
“It is critical for our economic performance that we radically expand the number of doctoral students in Ireland. The OECD sought a doubling by 2010. As well as receiving a first-class academic education, doctoral students must also receive support in developing workplace and entrepreneurial skills. I am convinced that the institutes, which already have a strong relationships with industry, can play a major role in this expansion.

“Delegating authority to award PhDs to these three Institutes is a formal recognition of their significant achievements to date but there are challenges ahead to be confronted by all those involved with the Irish higher-education system. HETAC considers that this is an opportune time for all higher education institutions to review their approach to doctoral education.

“In particular we need to move urgently to develop world class inter-institutional doctoral schools to address the problems of fragmentation of resources. It is well known that some significant research questions require an inter-disciplinary approach. Graduate schools can bring relevant disciplines together to tackle such questions.”

By Brian Skelly