Minister slams degree snobbery

February 20, 1998

Irish education minister Miche l Martin has warned the country's institutes of technology that he will not follow the British example by upgrading them to universities.

In a speech criticising "snobbery" in education, he said he would not support proposals that could serve to undermine the quality and diversity of options in third-level education.

He cited the Dearing report, noting that while the recommendations on funding had received most attention, its comments on quality and diversity were probably more significant.

The minister quoted the section expressing serious concern about how certain types of courses, specifically apprenticeships and other sub-degree qualifications, had often been squeezed out as institutions tried to compete with each other on what they perceived as the more prestigious area of degrees. This had led to a shortage of skills-related places and the need to reinvest in sub-degree areas. A failure to do this, it was suggested, would seriously damage British long-term competitiveness, he added.

Mr Martin said: "A vital need is to move away from a sort of snobbery that seems to believe that only degrees are worthwhile. This idea fundamentally ignores the role of apprenticeships, certificates and diplomas in providing people with valuable skills which will enable them to find well-paid employment."

The speech was taken as a coded message to the country's 11 regional technical colleges, recently renamed institutes of technology. Some of the larger ones want to issue their own awards and a few see themselves evolving into universities.

The minister's comments have been endorsed by John Bruton, leader of Fine Gael, the main opposition party. But Mr Martin has a political difficulty because he backed the claim of the Dublin Institute of Technology for university status when he was in opposition. A review group is examining its application.

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