The idea of the institutions was first announced by Patrick Hillery in 1963. A year later, a site for an institution in Carlow was identified. The Investment in Education (1962) and Training of Technicians in Ireland (1964) reports greatly accelerated the trend in Ireland for education reform and development particularly in technical education, similar to that in other Western Countries at the time.
The Steering Committee on Technical Education, also called The Mulcahy Report (1967), was an important milestone in framing the institutional structures and functions calling 'for trade and industry over a broad spectrum of occupations ranging from craft to professional level, notably in engineering and science, but also in commercial, linguistic and other specialities.'
The first institutions formally opened their doors in 1970, and other colleges were added during the following decade. Some colleges developed from earlier institutions and colleges, involving amalgamation, but most were completely new institutions. A Regional Technical College for Limerick was cancelled after a National Institute for Higher Education was announced for the city. Finally, in 1993, an institution was created for Limerick. Two additional institutions have been created since, bringing the total to thirteen.
The institutions and their year of establishment:
The institutions were run under the Vocational Education Acts from 1970 until 1992 as special subcommittees of the Vocational Education Committees, and placed on an independent basis thereafter by the Regional Technical Colleges Acts in 1993. In the late 1990s, all of the institutions were upgraded to Institute of Technology status. This was in recognition of the high standards, including university level research, which takes place at them. Additionally institutions have been given delegated authority to confer their own awards in some cases up to Doctoral level. The Regional Technical Colleges Acts still apply to all the institutions, with Dublin Institute of Technology set up under previous legislation and been quite distinct.
The Institutes of Technology Act 2006 will further amend the law with respect to the institutions.
The individual institutions are structured similar to other universities, particularly Irish ones. Each institution has a Director, who is the chief operational officer of the institution, usually assisted by an ad-hoc senior management team; a Registrar, who is the chief academic officer of the institution; a Governing Council, which oversees operational affairs; an Academic Council, which oversees academic affairs. Each academic school has a Head of School and each academic department of a school has a Head of Department.
The institutions traditional courses were National Certificate and National Diploma type courses particularly in business, engineering and science, this was very much the founding principle. During the late 1970s degrees at Bachelor's level were introduced, later Master's and Doctoral levels were also allowed. In recent years there has been a rapid expansion in apprenticeship and nursing type courses.
Traditionally awards were conferred by the National Council for Educational Awards, this statutory authority became the Higher Education and Training Awards Council, other awards are conferred by the Further Education and Training Awards Council. Some specialised courses, such as accountancy, are validated by professional bodies but these are nearly always the exception.