A former higher education boss has been appointed to try to direct the institutes of technology in Waterford and Carlow back on track for a joint application for technological university status.
Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan had to intervene after WIT unexpectedly suspended the merger with IT Carlow last month. She has asked Michael Kelly to lead a consultation process aimed at getting support from management, staff, and students for the project at both colleges.
WIT was understood to be pushing for technological university (TU) designation alone — concerned that a joint venture might take at least five years to reach the high standards set in 2012 by the Higher Education Authority (HEA).
Ms O’Sullivan made clear to management last month that despite Government support for the idea of a TU in the South-East, there would be no exceptions to the criteria already being followed by the initial steps on the application process taken by two groupings in the South-West and Dublin.
Mr Kelly was HEA chairman until 2011, and has since chaired the alliance of three institutes of technology — Dublin, Blanchardstown, and Tallaght — nearing formal application stage for a Dublin technological university.
His appointment was announced by Ms O’Sullivan after yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, saying the Government intends that the South-East should benefit from the TU process.
“I firmly believe in the merits of this project for the region and I want to see the process reinvigorated,” she said. “I fully acknowledge the work that the leadership of both institutions have committed to the project but it’s also true to say that momentum has slipped in recent weeks.”
Mr Kelly will be expected to “knock heads together” to guide people at both campuses to a mutual understanding of what is needed to reach the application stage, with a report due in January.
The challenge may go beyond convincing WIT’s governing body of the merits of continuing the joint project, after the Teachers’ Union of Ireland said last week it has lodged a grievance with the Labour Relations Commission about a lack of consultation with academic staff at both colleges. Mr Kelly’s work is likely to focus strongly on addressing those concerns.
Ms O’Sullivan paid tribute to WIT chairman Donie Ormonde, who is stepping down.
A Department of Education statement said he feels he has brought the project as far as he can.
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