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10. Education and training in information technology

In the report Computers in Ireland published in 1971, it was proposed that a Central Computing Council should be set up to develop a national IT strategy. Among the areas identified for attention by such a council was "training and education." The report elaborated on the need for training for management and computer specialists, to take account of changes in the needs of personnel, in information technology, and in our understanding of the potential of the computer.7 At that time, computer education had not been introduced in primary or secondary schools. Tertiary level was the first opportunity for students to receive an introduction to computing. It was recognized that the training of teachers would be a necessary initial step towards the introduction of computing in schools. This section reviews progress in the training and education sectors in information technology.

Tertiary-Level Education Institutions

By 1980 some form of computer-related courses had commenced or was due to be available at almost all tertiary-level institutions. Table 1.19 sets out the degree, diploma, certificate, and other courses run in universities and Regional Technical Colleges (RTCs).45

Table 1.19. Computer-related courses at tertiary level, 1980

Institution Course Year of first graduates (if later than 1978)
1. Degree level:    
University College Dublin B.Sc. with Computer Science  
University College Cork B.Sc. with Computer Science  
National Institute for Higher Education, Limerick B.B.S. (Management Services)  
National Institute for Higher Education, Limerick Computer Systems 1983
National Institute for Higher Education, Dublin   1984
Trinity College Dublin B.Sc. Computer Science 1983
2. Diploma level:    
University College Dublin One-year postgraduate 1980
RTC Waterford One-year postgraduate 1980
NIHE, Limerick One-year postgraduate 1980
RTC Athlone One-year postgraduate 1980
University College Cork One-year postgraduate 1980
Kevin Street Three-year technician course 1980
3. Certificate level (two-year):    
RTC Dundalk Data processing 1979
RTC Galway Data processing 1981
RTC Carlow Data processing 1981
RTC Cork Data processing 1980
RTC Sligo Data processing 1981
RTC Letterkenny Data processing 1982
RTC Tralee Data processing 1983
RTC Waterford Industrial/commercial computing 1982
NIHE, Limerick Data processing 1980
College of Commerce, Rathmines Programming 1980
4. Certificate level (one-year):    
RTC Waterford Micro-computer processing  
RTC Waterford Computer programming  
RTC Dundalk Computer programming  
RTC Galway Computer programming  
RTC Carlow Computer applications 1980
5. Other:    
AnCO Computer programming courses  
6. Degree level:    
Trinity College Dublin B.Sc. Computer Science  
7. Diploma level:    
Trinity College Dublin Advanced computer programming 1980
Trinity College Dublin Systems analysis  
University College Galway One-year postgraduate, systems analysis 1980
8. Certificate level:    
Bolton Street Computer programming 1980

Source: Ref. 45.

Note: The majority of the courses under heading 2 are one-year conversion courses introduced in 1979/80. Three of these are being continued in 1980/81. RTC courses under heading 4 are generally being phased out in favour of two-year courses leading to the National Certificate. Finally, some degree-level courses may be introduced at RTC level over the next few years; the first graduations will not be before the mid-1980s.

During the 1980s there was considerable pressure to produce more graduates and diploma and certificate holders in computer-related courses. The estimated increase in graduates was from 30 in 1978 (in UCD, UCC, and National Institute for Higher Education (NIHE), Limerick) to a projected 240 graduates in 1983. In 1980, the estimated number of diploma holders was 128. Within the Regional Technical Colleges there were only 68 certificate-level students in 1980, which was due to rise to 232 students for computer-related courses in 1983.

This information has been updated for tertiary-level educational institutions in 1988 and the detailed list of IT-related courses is set out in Appendix A. From this it is clear that computer science/studies, electronics, and IT-related engineering courses were well established in virtually all tertiary-level colleges. This means that school leavers can pursue IT studies from National Certificate level, through degree and diploma programmes to postgraduate research.

The ready availability of graduates and technicians was seen as a key factor in attracting prospective overseas investment in Ireland, particularly within the electronics industry. The MCC emphasized the need to build upon this advantage of a skilled labour pool.44

According to a survey in 1985, there were 734 engineers employed in the electronics industry. One of the major findings of the research was that, while projections for total employment of engineers had been inflated, actual recruitment, owing to high turnover, had exceeded expectations: "engineers in the industry are moving out of engineering posts into other positions [e.g. management] and/or leaving the country altogether."50 This suggests that Ireland may be experiencing an "over-supply" of engineers, who may need to emigrate and whose skills could be lost to the country that has borne the cost of their education.

Computer Education in Schools


According to the Department of Education, all secondary-level schools have some computer facilities. Since 1981 resources have been made available (about IR£2.1 million) to provide computers through an 80 per cent grant towards the costs of hardware and software. Schools have made up the remaining 20 per cent of costs. All vocational, community, and comprehensive schools availed themselves of the scheme, as did most other post-primary schools. At junior cycle within secondary schools, there is a syllabus for computer studies that can be taken as an optional subject. At senior cycle, computer studies can be taken as part of the mathematics syllabus. It is not yet possible to take an exam in computer studies. Instead, as an interim measure, schools may nominate pupils, whose performance in the subject has been satisfactory, for a statement from the Department of Education. This document states that they have satisfactorily undertaken the subject. Approximately 400, or half of post-primary schools, have availed themselves of this, and 8,000 statements have been issued.


According to the Department of Education, there are about 550,000 primary school pupils in some 3,300 schools for whom there are 22,000 teachers. The department estimates that there is a computer, or more than one computer, in 25 per cent of schools (about 800). Virtually none of these were bought through governmental funds, except in about 50 schools with special educational needs or in disadvantaged areas. Instead the computers were funded locally from money raised by individual schools.

Whilst there is no policy for IT in primary schools, a pilot project was implemented between 1982 and 1986 to investigate the best ways of using computers at primary level. The conclusion from the project was that information technology should be fully integrated into the curriculum, into the teaching of English, Irish, mathematics, and other subjects. It was found that computers were most successful when used in projects, for word-processing and simple database applications, and for teaching LOGO programming, mainly for mathematical applications. The most-favoured hardware in current use is the BBC Acorn, mainly because of the software available for educational purposes.

Three problems were identified by the Department of Education that will hamper IT diffusion in schools:

(1) the lack of a policy for IT in primary schools;
(2) the lack of hardware/software;
(3) the lack of guidance/advice available to teachers on hardware/software.

According to the International Labour Office, "the knowledge, skills and attitudes required for operating and maintaining new technology and participating in the innovation process will vary for different categories of workers. The underlying broad tendency is for firms and institutions to demand more advanced skills than hitherto. Low-skilled employment will decrease absolutely."51 Information technology has therefore placed new demands on both educational and training institutions in Ireland. "Computer literacy and familiarity with new technology will be indispensable social skills in the future."51 These needs are being addressed at tertiary level for students taking specific options (e.g. engineering, computer science, and some other courses). At secondary level, the rate of diffusion remains slow. Until computer studies becomes an essential part of the examined curriculum, resources are made available for teacher-training, and sufficient computer teaching time is allotted for all pupils to participate, computer literacy will not be achieved.

Training in Information Technology

Along with education, training must also change to meet new demands. "Innovative firms urgently need skilled workers who are able to operate and maintain the new equipment."51 The need for creativity and flexibility is also emphasized.

Table 1.20. Registered apprentice population by trade, trade group, and year of apprenticeship, 31 December 1986

Trade and trade group Year of apprenticeship Total registered
1st 2nd 3rd 4th
Cabinetmaker 47 75 93 78 293
Woodmachinist   33 26 22 101
Upholsterer 2 8 8 9 27
Woodfinisher 3 4 6 7 20
Total furniture 72 120 133 116 441
Compositor 10 17 12 9 48
Letterpress printer 1 0 0 1 2
Lithographic printer 26 32 16 20 94
Carton maker 5 1 4 3 13
Bookbinder 4 7 6 3 20
Graphic reproducer 3 10 3 1 17
Total printing 49 67 41 37 194
Dental craft 3 15 11 10 39
Total dental 3 15 11 10 39
Installation 54 90 109 202 455
Industrial maintenance 331 368 386 391 1,476
Instrumentation 18 21 23 20 82
Power supply 13 63 59 57 192
Rewinding - 2 - 4 6
Neon sign - - - - -
Lift installation - - 2 1 3
Refrigeration electrical - - 6 2 8
Aircraft installation - - - - -
Total electrical 416 544 585 677 2,222
Motor mechanic 358 437 409 517 1,721
Agricultural mechanic 28 40 33 28 129
Heavy vehicle mechanic 40 57 50 34 181
Light vehicle body repair 13 21 44 20 98
Total motor 439 555 536 599 2,129
Fitter 311 464 392 481 1,648
Turner 1 1 3 3 8
Toolmaker 123 77 97 116 413
Sheet metal worker 41 42 53 45 181
Coppersmith - 1 - 3 4
Metal fabricator 79 136 127 111 453
Pipe fitter - - - 2 2
Shipbuilding 4 1 7 3 15
Welder 7 6 8 10 31
Patternmaker 3 - I - 4
Foundry craft - - 1 - 1
Refrigeration craft 17 36 35 28 116
Aircraft mechanic 10 28 10 69 117
Instrument mechanic          
Total engineering 596 792 734 871 2,993
Carpenter/joiner 402 509 530 559 2,000
Slater/tiler - 3 2 3 8
Brick/stonelayer 148 151 134 106 539
Glazier - 4 4 4 12
Painter/decorator 120 136 145 139 540
Plasterer 133 79 96 100 408
Stonecutter 7 13 16 11 47
Plumbing 175 238 193 228 334
Woodmachinist 4 10 15 14 43
Construction plant fitter 65 60 58 39 222
Total construction 1,054 1,203 1,193 1,203 4,653
Grand total 2,629 3,296 3,233 3,513 12,671

Source: AnCO, Apprenticeship Statistics 1976-86, Dublin, AnCO: 1987.

Apprenticeship Training

Apprenticeship is the system of skill and knowledge development where a long-term training (three to four years) is completed in an industrial/ commercial company and combined with compulsory classroom instruction. In recent years, apprenticeship has been maintained, and even increased, in some countries such as Germany and Switzerland. This contrasts with experience in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Overall, there were 15,599 registered apprentices in 1976 in Ireland. By 1986 the level was closer to 13,000, down from a peak of 21,498 apprentices in 1980. If apprenticeship courses are examined it is difficult to identify any IT-related trades for apprenticeship (table 1.20). All conform to the "traditional" craft skills within the furniture, printing, electrical, motor, engineering, and construction industries.

Table 1.21. Numbers trained on FAS electronics-related courses, 1983-1986

Course Year
1983 1984 1985 1986
Training Centres Division        
Electronic Assembly 426 504 530 604
Basic Electrolucs 91 147 120 62
Digital Electronics 16 39 51 70
AnCO Electronics 63 54 97 54
AnCO Microelectronics     18 21
Electronic Servicing   14 48 33
Introduction to Electronics 65 45 26 57
Electronic Assessment 78 111 103 54
Total 739 914 993 955
Total female 350 438 464 408
External Training Division        
PCB Design and Layout       21
Advanced Manufacturing Technology     18 22
Computer Hardware Engineering       23
Component Research Technician     20 46
Micro Maintenance     102 89
Microprocessor System Design     21 78
Data Communications     64 46
Computerized POS Technician       23
Microprocessor/Electronics     20  
Total     245 348
Total female     9 38

Source: Unpublished FAS data, 1988.

Non-Apprenticeship Training

Responsibility for training in Ireland lies with Foras Aisleanna Saothair (FAS), the Training and Employment Authority. In 1988, FAS provided training programmes for 48,000 people. Within the FAS-run training centres, eight computer-related training courses were run in 1987. The data for throughput on these courses are contained in table 1.21.

According to these data, almost 1,000 people received IT-related training in 1986 within FAS centres, and an additional 348 underwent training in other institutions. This means that IT-trained people represented 3.2 per cent of persons trained in 1985 (the last year for which comparable data are available). Despite the fact that female trainees comprised almost half of all trainees on IT training centre courses, they were concentrated in the electronic assembly courses. In 1983, female trainees comprised 78 per cent of those taking electronic assembly, although this fell to 60 per cent in 1986. Women were poorly represented on non-assembly type electronics courses, with the exception of "Introduction to Electronics" in 1986. This pattern is further accentuated in external training IT courses. In 1985, female trainees comprised less than 4 per cent of the total. By 1987 this had risen to 17 per cent. However, if individual courses are examined, it is clear that in most years there were fewer than 10 women on any individual IT course.

Innovative Developments in IT Education and Training

The important role of education and training initiatives in promoting IT and other kinds of innovation is clearly recognized. Closer links must be developed between education/training and industry if technology transfer and economic development are to take place. This subsection examines some of the initiatives that have occurred in the education and training sectors in Ireland.

Tertiary-Level Education and Industry Linkages

According to the Manpower Consultative Committee, Irish industry is in a phase of transition, from its traditional (post-1960s) reliance on mobile foreign investment to the need to look to new forms and sources of investment to achieve continuing growth. The tertiary-level education sector could assist industry in making this transition in two ways, through education and training activities and through research and development (R&D).44 A summary of the current forms of cooperation between industry and tertiary-level institutions is contained in tables 1.22 and 1.23. Government support has also been allocated to infrastructural developments within specific universities.

In Trinity College, Dublin, a research and consultancy unit was established as the Software Engineering Laboratory to promote consultancy services to industry. The areas covered include database, text compression algorithms, computer networks, and image processing. Trinity College was also the first university to introduce the "campus-based company" to Ireland in the Environmental Resources Analysis Company, which provides an international consultancy service in the field of remote sensing.

At NIHE, Limerick, the Plassey Technological Park was located to provide a national technological focus, which has helped to attract international IT investment and R&D activities to the Mid-West Region. There are currently over 50 organizations within the Park, ranging from financial institutions and software companies to an Innovation Centre, National Microelectronics Application Centre, and smaller IT-related industrial companies.

A National Microelectronics Research Centre has been established at Cork University. It is involved in contract research for the European Space Agency and European Community, as well as in partnership with firms such as General Electric, Honeywell, Philips, and Siemens. Among the specialist fields of interest are silicon IC design and fabrication, gallium arsenide technology, computer-aided design, and solar energy research.

In a report by the Confederation of Irish Industry,26 three themes were identified for introducing technological innovation into Irish industry:

Table 1.22. Types of formal cooperation taking place in the universities, the NIHEs, and colleges of technology

  Bolton St Maynooth NIHE Dublin NIHE Limerick TCD UCC UCD UCG
Representation of industry/commerce on governing body x   x x   x   x
Representation of industry/commerce on other formal structures x   x x x x x x
Industrial liaison offices x   x x   x   x
Careers and appointments offices   x x   x x x x
Undergraduate sponsorships x   x x x x x  
Postgraduate sponsorships     x x x   x x
Undergraduate prizes x   x x x x x x
Postgraduate prizes     x x x x x  
Chairs/teaching posts       x   x x x
R&D, other research x   x x x x x x
Equipment & facilities x   x x x x x  
Other sponsorship     x         x
Job placement schemes     x x       x
Staff exchanges                
Outside part-time lecturers     x          
Sharing of equipment x   x x x x    
Drafting of curricula x   x x x x    
Other cooperation         x      

Source: Manpower Consultative Committee, Review of Links between Industry and Third-Level Education, Dublin: MCC, January 1985.

Table 1.23. Types of cooperation taking place in the Regional Technical Colleges

  Waterford Tralee Sligo Limerick Galway Dundalk Cork Carlow Athlone
Representation of industry/commerce x x x x x x x x x
on board of management                  
Representation of industry/commerce   x   x   x   x  
on other formal structures                  
Industrial liaison offices     x            
Careers and appointments offices         x        
Undergraduate sponsorships   x             x
Postgraduate sponsorships       x x        
Undergraduate prizes x x x x x x x x x
Postgraduate prizes                  
Chairs/teaching posts           x      
R&D, other research   x x   x x     x
Equipment & facilities   x x   x        
Other sponsorship                 x
Job placement schemes x x x x x x x x x
Staff exchanges                  
Outside part-time lecturers   x     x x x   x
Sharing of equipment x x x           x
Drafting of curricula x x     x   x x x
Other cooperation                  

Source: Manpower Consultative Committee, Review of Links between Industry and Third-Level Education, Dublin: MCC, January 1985.

(1) The government must generate a climate conducive to research and innovation through the provision of proper funding and opportunity.

(2) There must be a parallel willingness by academics to breach institutional and attitudinal barriers to cooperation and by industry to invest in R&D, particularly in information technology.

(3) Well-trained and motivated manpower should be encouraged to undertake research into the future needs of industry.

Some of these requirements are being addressed but, in the present climate of economic cut-backs, the process may be held up and conducted in a piecemeal manner.

Innovative IT Training Initiatives

A limited number of IT-related training initiatives have been taken by FAS. According to a report prepared for the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP), two courses were initiated at the Innovation Centre and Microelectronics Application Centre at Plassey Limerick.

The training activities at the Innovation Centre commenced in 1980 and concentrated on developing new products by adapting technological advances to the industrial conditions of Ireland's Mid-West Region. The centre's team of experts assist an entrepreneur through the various steps of product development from generating and screening ideas through market research, product design prototype development, product engineering, and securing finance to market launch.52

The second IT-related innovative course is within the Microelectronics Centre and is designed to introduce micro-electronic technology to new products and processes.52

Since the 1970s there has been a notable swing away from the early dependence on industrial policy and financial incentives to overseas investors to promote IT innovation and development within Ireland. Increasingly the emphasis is on skill development to promote the indigenous use and innovative development of IT. Hence there is the acknowledged need to utilize the education and training resources of the universities, Regional Technical Colleges, and training institutions. Programmes such as the recent EOLAS innovation support programmes (Appendix B) emphasize the role of linking colleges and industry into partnerships - encouraging graduate employment in industry, R&D in colleges, and EC-wide cooperative research for European industry.

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