With the academic year 2020/21 about to begin in just a few weeks, the coming months present a challenge for college authorities unlike anything ever previously encountered. “As we plan for 2020/21, we do so in a climate of uncertainty but fully committed to these two guiding principles: the health and safety of CIT students and staff and the effective and consistent delivery of academic programmes maintaining the integrity and high academic and professional standing of our CIT awards,” says Dr Barry O’Connor.
The progress of the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent public health guidelines will dictate activities for 2020/21. “While we welcome the Higher Education guidelines published last week, we are aware, like all other sectors of society, that these may be subject to change over the year. Numbers of students and staff on-campus activities at any given time will clearly be limited due to social-distancing rules.” Programme delivery will follow a blended model for semester one, and, as far as can be predicted at this point, similarly for semester two.
“This will be particularly important for our incoming first-year students as they transition into third level. They have already been severely challenged as they completed their second-level education in the teeth of the Covid pandemic.”
Regardless of the continued spectre of Covid-19, 2021 promises to be a landmark year with the official establishment of the Munster Technological University — a new chapter for CIT and the entire region. “The partnership of CIT and IT Tralee to establish the Munster Technological University on January 1 next is a major step forward in terms of access to higher education in the Munster/ South West Region,” he said, adding that it also goes some way to redressing the regional imbalance in third-level education provision vis-a-vis the Greater Dublin Region. “In terms of CIT itself, it is another step in the evolution of Technological and Cultural education in Cork, commencing with the establishment of the Royal Cork Institution in the early 1800s, through to the Crawford Municipal Technical Institute, then Cork RTC and latterly CIT. Technological Universities have been a feature of European higher education for generations and are deeply embedded in the social, cultural and economic ecosystems of their respective regions as well having national and international standing.”
MTU, from the outset, will have six campuses across Cork and Kerry and will aim to be a partner of choice for the emerging networks of European Universities being championed by the EU Commission, particularly in the imminent post-Brexit era.
Earlier this summer, the sod was turned on the new CIT/MTU Arena project, a two-phase programme which will ultimately see in excess of €22m invested in state-of-the-art sports facilities on the Bishopstown Campus. “The demand for places in CIT continues to grow year on year and the upward demographics trend in the region will push that demand even higher.”
A significant track upgrade is also scheduled for our CIT Athletics Stadium allowing the staging of higher-level international meets. Combining these Cork facilities with the new Kerry Sports Academy in Tralee will give MTU a significant resource in terms of indoor sports facilities, with plans underway to further develop the comprehensive outdoor facilities on the Bishopstown campus. A new Learning Resource Centre at Bishopstown, and a new STEM Building in Tralee, are part of a ‘bundle’ of significant Private Public Partnership projects on which additional announcements are awaited.
CIT has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with industry in the region — a mutually beneficial arrangement destined to grow further with the establishment of MTU. “Growing and embedding MTU engagement and concomitant research enabling leadership in local industry and enterprise, including community, social and cultural enterprise, will be given an even greater focus in the new University. Greater bandwidth, critical mass and geographical spread will allow MTU to service the needs and, reciprocally, be supported by SMEs and large corporates alike.”
Dr O’Connor highlights the tradition chronicled in Michael Moynihan’s book, in setting out the tried and tested template for this ongoing engagement.
This international dimension is specifically called out in the Technological Universities Act of 2018, the founding legislation for the MTU. In addition, the Erasmus budget is currently being doubled to €30bn for the period 2021/2027. “On a local and national level, MTU should be leading the way in terms of genuine open-access to all who wish to pursue third-level education.”
During a period that is both challenging and ambitious for CIT, Dr Barry O’Connor continues to grasp the helm of an educational vessel charting its careful course into a distant bright horizon. “I am fortunate to work in an environment where active and participative partnership is the norm, where the continued focus is on the relevance and professional standing of our individual programmes. To witness, on an on-going basis, the support available to each individual student and to each student as an individual. This is driven by the CIT spirit of community and active engagement with the world of work, culture and community.”