University status for Waterford edges closer

WATERFORD Institute of Technology (WIT) should be able to apply to become a technological university by early next year, as a result of political moves to speed up the process after the recent TalkTalk job losses.

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) had previously indicated the criteria for the establishment of a technological university (TU) sector would not be published until the third quarter of 2012.

But it confirmed yesterday — as reported by local TDs last week — that the timeline had been brought forward at the request of Education Minister Ruairi Quinn.

The HEA is finalising proposed guidelines on the requirements for any application by a college or group of colleges to be redesignated as a TU.

The new sector was proposed in last January’s National Strategy on Higher Education but work was expected to take much longer.

However, the draft criteria is now expected to be issued in the coming weeks and — following a period of consultation in which colleges and others can propose changes — the final criteria could be published before Christmas.

“It’s important that the whole process is done correctly and fairly but it has been decided, in light of a request from the minister, to bring things forward,” a HEA spokesperson said.

WIT’s application — along with those of Cork and Dublin Institutes of Technology — for university status was turned down by the previous government in January in light of the national strategy’s proposal for a TU sector.

The college and business interests in the region have been lobbying for a university for the south-east for a number of years to help boost job-creation opportunities.

But the campaign was stepped up after the 575 redundancies announced by TalkTalk over a fortnight ago. Staff were given 30 days’ notice on September 8 and negotiations on redundancy packages began this week between worker representatives and management.

While talks had taken place between Cork, Tralee and Waterford institutes of technology about possible amalgamation under a TU heading, it is understood these and other prospective groupings will now await the finalised guidelines before deciding their strategies.

The criteria could stipulate that individual colleges can not apply alone or that proposed mergers under a TU brand might have to be between institutions in the same region, or with similar subject specialities.

The HEA’s implementation plan says details will be published by early next month on establishing a National Academy for Teaching and Learning.

The implementation plan is the beginning of an intense phase of change for all publicly-funded colleges.

A key change will see much of their funding dependent on meeting targets to widen access, increase collaboration, reduce duplication of courses and increase international student numbers, with greater financial and administrative autonomy possible if these and other targets are reached.

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