South-east university proposal in rough seas

Efforts to establish a university in the south-east appear to be floundering after Waterford Institute of Technology halted work on the required merger with Institute of Technology Carlow.

The larger college’s governing body decided on Tuesday to “suspend all activities related to merger” and its request for an urgent meeting with the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and Department of Education has been granted.

It is understood WIT wants to apply instead for technological university status on its own to speed up the process, or to seek approval to apply independently instead and bring in IT Carlow when it also achieves necessary standards.

However, the HEA’s rules for applying to become a technological university are clear that a merger of one or more institutes of technology is needed before any status upgrade can be considered.

A WIT statement yesterday morning said its governing body had met to discuss concerns about the process of delivering a technological university in the south-east.

“IT Carlow has not been advised of the concerns referred to in the email and is seeking clarification. These decisions would appear to be at variance with the memorandum of agreement ratified by both governing bodies (on October 13),” said IT Carlow president Patricia Mulcahy.

A WIT spokesperson said the agreement signed by the presidents and chairs of both colleges at the end of September had not yet been ratified by the governing body in Waterford.

It is understood WIT’s decision follows a report suggesting it would take at least five years for a merged college to reach various standards required to become a technological university. But IT Carlow said this was only a draft report by University of Liverpool’s Prof John Taylor, who told both colleges last week he was withdrawing it as it contained errors and he needed to revise it.

It has also been indicated to the Irish Examiner that IT Carlow is far nearer to some standards, such as numbers of students on flexible learning programmes. Both colleges are committed to establishing a technological university for the region.

Ahead of a meeting with WIT and department officials this morning, the HEA said it welcomes WIT’s continuing commitment toward the creation of a technological university in the south east. A similar meeting with IT Carlow is being arranged for the coming days.

Last week, Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan said she expects the colleges to meet the timetable set out to her and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin on September 25 to complete a joint business plan by the end of 2014, ready for submission to an international panel for approval.


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