ITs must meet strict upgrade criteria

Mary Mitchell O'Connor.

The rapid establishment of technological universities (TU) is not guaranteed by last week’s passing of enabling legislation, the head of the Higher Education Authority (HEA) has cautioned.

While the Technological Universities Bill should be signed soon by President Michael D Higgins, any institutes of technology hoping to be upgraded must meet strict criteria.

While statements from political leaders and colleges have alluded to the opening of technological universities by the end of 2018, HEA chief executive Graham Love said there are formal steps to follow first.

The HEA is close to finalising a list of experts to sit on panels that can assess applications being anticipated from consortia of one or more institutes of technology for TU status.

“It’s important for the integrity of the process and for the trust we have in the system that the applicants go through a fairly rigorous evaluation that’s being run by the HEA, supported by Quality and Qualifications Ireland,” Mr Love said.

There’s a process, there are criteria to be met and that’s important for upholding the trustworthiness of the process.

A statement accompanying the launch of the Government’s 2018 education plans last month said the first TUs would be opened in September.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in Waterford on Friday that it is very hopeful there would be a TU by September, and a spokesperson for the minister of state for higher education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, said TUs would be open by the end of this year.

A preliminary statement to the Irish Examiner from Cork Institute of Technology last week, said it would assess the final criteria and application process before deciding when it lodges a joint application with Institute of Technology Tralee to form a Munster Technological University (MTU).

But a further statement from both colleges yesterday said they plan to register students in the new MTU in September 2019.

Resources and structures have been put in place to successfully deliver the programme of change required to make the MTU a reality and the project has received dedicated funding from the HEA to facilitate this work, they said.

The HEA board had strong reservations in 2014 about the readiness of the MTU proposal to proceed to formal application stage, but was told by the Department of Education that its function was solely to manage and support a preliminary assessment.

The final decision on TU status will be for the Minister of Education, based on the recommendations of an assessment panel and the HEA’s observations.

However, even if suitable experts are ready to serve on panels when any applications are received, the law allows another 10 months after their appointment before a decision is required.

The three institutes in Dublin preparing a joint application — Blanchardstown, Dublin and Tallaght — are to accelerate their plans and aim to apply for TU status by early summer.

Waterford Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology Carlow plan to form a Technological University of the South-East (TUSE). The TUSE steering group said on Friday it would be ready to submit a TU application between July and the end of the year.

An application is planned by the Galway-Mayo, Letterkenny and Sligo institutes of technology to develop a technological university for the west and north-west.

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