First technological universities could open in September

The Government expects the first technological universities to open next September, despite the law to facilitate applications not yet being passed.

The ambition was set out as it launched its Action Plan for Education 2018, setting a range of targets for delivery across the entire education system.

Although the plan does not explicitly state when the first technological universities (TUs) might be ready to begin operations, the Department of Education states that one of the key actions this year will be to enact the legislation, “with the first TUs to open in September, 2018”.

Two consortia of technological universities are waiting for the law to pass, before they can formally apply to seek TU status. These would see the merger of three Dublin institutes of technology (Dublin, Blanchardstown and Tallaght), and two in Munster (Cork and Tralee), if their applications are successful.

The process will require consideration of their applications, under a range of rigorous criteria, by international experts, before a recommendation can be made to government as to whether they meet the criteria set by the Higher Education Authority.

The Technological Universities Bill passed through the final Dáil stages a fortnight ago, but it has yet to complete its passage through the Seanad.

Following two days of debate, last week, the bill failed to complete the committee stage, yesterday, as senators did not complete discussions of proposed amendments, mostly relating to representation on the governing body and academic council of a TU.

Earlier, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that enacting the bill was one of the actions in the 2018 plan that he really wanted done.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

“That will allow many of our institutes of technology to grow into technological universities. That’s so important to the South-East of our country, in particular, which is one of the few regions which doesn’t have a university,” he said.

The concept of a new TU sector was first proposed in the 2011 government strategy for higher education to 2030, and the criteria for an amalgamation of two or more institutes of technology, to qualify as a TU, were set six years ago this month. Carlow and Waterford institutes of technology are hoping to apply to create a TU for the South-East, although there have been several difficulties in relations between the two colleges.

Higher Education Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor said she hoped to get the TU bill across the line very soon.

It was first introduced by former education minister, Jan O’Sullivan, in 2015, but because of industrial action threatened by academic staff, the legislation was delayed, while changes were negotiated. These include greater security around employment and the removal of the previous requirement that institutes of technology must formally merge before applying for TU status.

The 2018 education plan features hundreds of actions, including the introduction of new subjects, reviews of existing provision, and other previously-announced initiatives.

Among them is a teacher-supply steering group to support efforts to bridge shortfalls of teachers in certain second-level subjects, and the difficulty for primary schools in finding substitute teachers.

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