‘Serious’ concerns over CIT and ITT merger revealed

“Serious and widely held” concerns about the proposed merger between Cork Institute of Technology and IT Tralee were voiced by board members of the Higher Education Authority (HEA) as far back as 2014, newly released board minutes reveal.

The proposed Munster Technogical University (MTU) is under investigation by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the Dáil spending watchdog.

Labour TD and PAC member Alan Kelly has called for answers as to why minutes remained “ hidden”.

Minutes of a specially convened meeting of the HEA board in October 2014, published in the last few days, reveal strong concerns about the credibility of the plan as proposed by the two colleges.

According to the minutes, the concerns expressed centred on:

  • The inadequacy of the mission/statement;
  • The “insufficiency of the costing of the plan”;
  • The apparent absence of an adequate risk assessment;
  • Conditionality and vagueness of the language in in important respects;
  • The plan “implied an erroneous assumption” that simply achieving TU status would lead to additional research revenue.

Ultimately, the “near unanimous opinion of the meeting was that the proposal should be rejected”.

In rejecting the plan at that stage, HEA board members stressed that the decision be cast in the light of “protecting the reputation of the HEA”.

Mr Kelly said the newly released minutes raise serious questions for both CIT and ITT.

“Why were the minutes of this specially convened board meeting hidden until I asked in the PAC that they be published?” said Mr Kelly. “They were the only unpublished board minutes.

“It seems to me that it was because, in October 2014, the HEA board members rejected strongly the merger between CIT and Tralee but that this didn’t fit with the Department of Education and HEA executive’s plan to create a technological university anyway.

“So the following questions now need to be asked. Why did the HEA behave in this way? Why was the view of the HEA board ignored? How much has this merger cost to date and what has the Department done about it?”

Separate CIT documents released to the PAC, and seen by this paper reveal €40,590 was paid to the Communications Clinic in 2015 and 2016 regarding the MTU bid.

CIT had a fixed-price tendered PR contract with the Communciations Clinic to provide PR services in relation to the MTU project. The college has said this was a joint tender with IT Tralee.

“It was anticipated that matters relating to the MTU may arise when CIT attended before the PAC in December 2015,” the CIT documents reveal. “These services were availed of by CIT at no extra cost.”

CIT also engaged a “local company”, Mills Public Relations, to provide training for its attendance before the PAC at a cost of €3,600.

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