A sixth facilitator in two years has been appointed to try to get Carlow and Waterford Institutes of Technology back talking about merger plans for a possible joint university application.
The process is to resume after governing bodies of both colleges decided to enter a preliminary process of facilitation ahead of possible resumption of dialogue. Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) decided last October to withdraw from talks of the previous three years on merging, claiming it could achieve standards necessary to become a technological university (TU) quicker without Institute of Technology Carlow (ITC).
However, rules set in 2012 for the formation of a TU require the merger of two or more institutes of technology for an application for the upgraded status to be made.
In a report last month recommending re-engagement, ex-chairman of the Higher Education Authority (HEA) Michael Kelly told Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan he could not get WIT and ITC together since last November, so deep was the distrust.
The latest facilitation role has been given to Jane Williams of Sia Partners management consultants, who is chairwoman of the Pensions Authority, and a former Forfás chief executive and IDA Ireland vice-president.
She faces a difficult task as, before Mr Kelly’s efforts began, four other external people were involved in trying to smooth relations between the sides. A project implementation board set up in 2013 had three external facilitators, and another was appointed last September to try breaking the impasse, before the minister asked Mr Kelly to step in. IT Carlow said its governing body agreed on Thursday evening to enter the facility process recommended by Mr Kelly to reinvigorate the TU project in the South-East. Its chairman John Moore said he is confident “a committed and equal partnership” between the two colleges will deliver a TU for the region within three years.
Waterford Institute of Technology - WIT
That was the timeframe within which Mr Kelly suggests the combined colleges could reach the various benchmarks of staff qualifications, student profiles and other criteria which the HEA requires for an international assessment panel to recommend TU status be granted.
WIT’s governing body decided on Tuesday to enter the process, which its president Prof Willie Donnelly said was a necessary forerunner to substantive engagement as mutual trust and respect issues remain.
Mr Kelly had highlighted the doubts on the part of each college about the other’s commitment to the project as a key factor in previous breakdowns. He singled out WIT’s position and also reported obstacles there when consultants for ITC had tried to undertake due diligence on financial governance in Waterford.
Ms O’Sullivan insists the merger requirement will remain in place, a stipulation to be underpinned in a Technological Universities Bill to be published in the autumn. Cork and Tralee institutes of technology propose to merge within the next year ahead of a TU application, with the most advanced plans being those of three institutes in Dublin which are also planning to seek TU status.
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