Institutes of Technology

The non-university sector remains under the control of the Minister for Education.  The university and non-university sectors are perceived as having different roles. The non-university sector was expected to develop a distinct role in relation to technical training and practical orientation of programs and maintain a regional focus.

There were two categories of Institute of Technology.  One group comprises 13 which emerge from the Regional Technical Colleges.

The other is the Dublin Institute of Technology which had a different origin and a significantly higher number of students than the other institutes,  operating a wider range of courses. In 2014, the institution entered into a formal process which led to its designation as a technological university, jointly with two other institutions, the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown and the Institute of Technology, Tallaght.

The Technological University Dublin, “TU Dublin”, was approved in July 2018. It was launched on 1 January 2019.

RTC Backgrounds

In September 1966, the Minister for Education announced the establishment of eight Regional Technical Colleges.  A steering committee was appointed to advise on technical education, and it presented its report in 1967. The report envisaged the colleges as educating for trade and industry over a broad range of occupations from craft to professional levels.

It contemplated courses in engineering, science, commercial, linguistic and other specialities.  It presumed the colleges would provide

  • senior cycle post-primary courses to Leaving Certificate
  • Junior and senior trade certificate courses
  • Courses for technicians with qualifications at various levels.
  • Courses leading to higher educational qualifications including professional level
  • Adult education courses

The Committee had not recommended that the Regional Technical Colleges would be managed by the VECs.  The Irish Vocational Education Association lobbied to obtain control of the colleges.

In 1969 the Department of Education announced that they would be managed by the Board of Management appointed under section 21 of the VEC Act 1930.  The chief accounting officer for the Regional Technical Colleges was the CEO of the relevant VEC.  The management system was criticised as failing to give the RTCs a distinct role from the second level VECs. The above arrangements existed until the Regional Technical Colleges Act 1992 was enacted.

First RTCs

The first five regional and technical colleges at Athlone, Carlow, Sligo, Dundalk and Waterford commenced in 1970.  VECS opened in Letterkenny in 1971, Galway in 1972, Cork 1974. Tralee Technical College became an RTC in 1977. Competitive scholarships were introduced which differed from the higher education grant provisions made in 1968.

In the early years, courses of technician and higher technician level comprised a significant part of the work of the colleges at certificate and diploma level. The National Council for Educational Awards was the validating body for RTC.  It awarded qualifications from most courses.  Where courses were for external professional agencies, they certified the award.

The course framework evolved to include a national certificate after two years’ study and a national diploma after either a further year of study or on completion of a three-year course.  A degree required the equivalent of four years of full-time study.

The European Social Funds supported students in the non-universities act.  By the mid-1980s there were over 12,000 students on ESF supported courses.


The advisory committee established in 1966  recommended the establishment of the National Council for Educational Awards. This was established on a non-statutory basis in 1972.  It recommended the establishment of regional educational councils, which recommendation was not in fact implemented.

The 1974 proposals by the coalition government proposed to abandon the so-called binary policy for higher education in favour of a comprehensive model.  Degree awarding powers were to be withdrawn from the NCEA which was to be restructured.

The Education Bill 1976 was not passed and after the 1977 general election, the binary policy was re-established, with degree awarding powers being reserved to the NCEA.

The National Council for Educational Awards was put on a statutory footing in 1979.  It was given the general functions of promoting, coordinating, developing technical, industrial, scientific, technological and commercial education outside the universities.


The Qualifications (Education and Training) Act established a National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, The Higher Education and Training Awards Council and Further Education and Training Awards Council.  They absorbed the functions of the National Council for Education Awards and the National Council for Vocational Awards together with some other agencies.

Awards by the Institutes of Technology are under the auspices of the NQAI  and they must liaise with the authority and ensure that the awards fit within its framework. The framework seeks to provide a comprehensive pattern of awards.  Awards are structured in 10 levels based on learning outcome criteria.

NIHEs become Universities

The National Institutes for Higher Education in Limerick and Dublin pressed for recognition as universities in the 1980s.  The government appointed an international group to examine the case for the establishment of a technological university at those colleges.

It recommended that the NIHEs be established as an independent university with accrediting powers. The legislation was passed in 1989; changing the institutes the universities.  Their directors designated the president and there were awarded powers to give degrees, diplomas and certificates

Institutes of Technology

The Regional Technical Colleges Act removed the RTCs from VEC control and gave them greater operational freedom under the auspices of the Department of Education.  The roles in undertaking research and consultancy was expanded. They were to engage in the research and technology transfer program with industry.

In 1998 the Regional Technical Colleges were renamed as Institutes of Technology.  In 2003 Waterford and Cork Institutes were given power to award degrees.  In 2003 Waterford was given the right to conform Masters and Doctoral degrees.

The Tallaght Institute of Technology was established to make up for a regional shortfall in third-level non-university education.  The Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology and The Institute of Technology in Blanchardstown were established.

In 1998 the Limerick Technical College became Limerick Institute of Technology increasing the number of Institutes of Technology.

The institutes account for 40 percent of the enrolments to higher education.  Most students study for national certificates or diploma levels.  The remainder study for degrees and post-graduate degrees levels.

DIT Background

The Dublin Institute of Technology evolved differently from the other institutes.  It was established by the City of Dublin VEC in 1977 by amalgamating six colleges, under its control.

  • College of Technology, Kevin Street,1881
  • College of Music, Chatham Row and Adelaide Road 1890
  • College of Commerce, Rathmines, 1901
  • College of Marketing and Design, Mountjoy Square 1905
  • College of Technology, Bolton Street, 1911
  • College of Catering, Cathal Brugha Street, 1941.

Most of the above institutions had offered second-level courses in their earlier years.  They focused on applied education and training in particular occupations and skills.  They held counselling to the relevant industries, professionals and trade unions.

In the 1970s the colleges re-focused their courses on the needs of the industry and commence.  Originally it was intended that they be transferred to have NIHE status, but this was resisted.

The Dublin Institute of Technology was established on an informal basis in 1978 to coordinate the above colleges.  The governing body was established.  The individual college councils, academic councils and the apprentice education board reported to it rather than to the parent VEC.

Degrees and Awards

In 1976 it entered a partnership arrangement with Trinity College, by which Trinity conferred some degree courses offered by the DIT.  Over time, a significant number of courses in arts, engineering, building science, tourism, food, and business were recognised for degree awards from Trinity College.

After 1998 the degree-awarding power was extended to the Institute and the relationship with Trinity College was phased out by ministerial order in 1997. This arrangement ceased in 2004 and a new framework was evolved.

The DIT was subject to legislation in 1992. Unlike the RTCS the DIT was given the power to grant diplomas, certificates and other awards.  The Act allowed for the conferral of degree and post-graduate degree powers on the college by the Department of Education.


The Act provides for the functions of the institute. It primarily provides vocational and technical education and training for economic, technological, scientific, commercial, industrial, social and cultural development of the State.

The institute may engage in research consultancy and development work by itself or in partnership with other institutions.  Certain of its functions are subject to Department of Education approval.

The DIT offers courses ranging from apprenticeship to PhDs. It had a large range of full-time and part-time students.  It has a significant mature student program. The institutes have obtained independence and modern management structures under recent legislation.

Regional Technical Colleges

The Dublin Institute of Technology and the Regional Technical Colleges, now Institutes of Technology developed in parallel to the universities since the 1960s.  The Regional Technical Colleges were established in the early 1970s operating under the local Vocational Education Committees.

In 1992, the Regional Technical Colleges Act modernised the institutes of technology and gave them greater autonomy and self-governance.  They were subject to monitoring by the Department of Education.

Through the 1990s the Regional Technical Colleges pressed for recognition as universities.  Following a review by a special group of the technology sector, it was recommended that all RTCs should be designated Institutes of Technology.  This took place in January 1998. By 2003 Waterford and Cork Institutes of Technology were given the right to award degrees.  Waterford Institute of Technology has continued to press for university status.

DIT Act and Technology University

The Dublin Institute of Technology Act 1992 removed the authority of the Dublin VECs.  DIT was given the power to confer diplomas, certificates and other awards.  It was granted functions that can include conferring of degrees, post-graduate degrees and honorary degrees.

A review team was appointed in 1995 to review quality assurance at the DIT.  The group recommended its degree-awarding power be extended. DIT sought recognition as a university in the Universities Act 1997 but this was not granted.  A body was set up to advise the government on whether DIT should be accorded status as a university.  It is recommended that be so designated within three to five years.

In 1975 the University of Dublin entered into an agreement whereby it conferred academic degrees at the colleges that formed the Dublin Institute of Technology; this allowed these graduates a vote in the University of Dublin constituency for Seanad Éireann representatives. This continued until 1998 when the Dublin Institute of Technology was granted its own autonomous degree-awarding powers under the Dublin Institute of Technology Act 1992

In 2014, the institution entered into a process that led to its designation as a technological university, jointly with two other institutions, the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown and the Institute of Technology, Tallaght. The Technological University Dublin, “TU Dublin”, was launched 1 January 2019.


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