Tech university ‘is achievable if trust is restored’

Ex-chair of Higher Educational Authority says tech university for south east doable within three years

The establishment of a technological university (TU) in the south east is achievable within three years it has been claimed — if the partners involved can rebuild mutual trust and the necessary investment is made available.

The suggestion was made by the former chairman of the Higher Educational Authority.

Michael Kelly’s report into the consultation and engagement process on a TU for the area was published in July.

However, he yesterday warned the Public Accounts Committee such an undertaking would impose significant demands on any merger of Carlow and Waterford ITs into a new institution.

“The pathway to designation as a TU is deliberately demanding of applicant institutes,” he said. “This is justified on the grounds of clearly differentiating the new TU’s from existing Institutes of Technology and in protecting the Irish University brand internationally.

“However, it imposes an additional set of pressures on the applicant institutes at every level and I believe that there needs to be a stronger policy recognition of the complexities and additional workloads required and a greater willingness to support the additional activities involved.”

Mr Kelly noted that a likely merger would place an emphasis on achieving a high level of academic standards.

“The full value of doing so is unlikely to be realised if we do not match our quality aspirations with the level of set-up investment required and adjust the funding model for TU’s based on a rigorous evaluation of their funding needs,” he said.

He told the PAC there was a strong business case for the establishment of the TU in the south east based on the needs of the region, and expressed his satisfaction that both institutes have agreed to enter into talks after earlier efforts were abandoned.

“The partners must find ways to re-build mutual trust and respect as the basis for equality of esteem,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jim Fennell, interim president of Galway Mayo Institute of Technology, apologised for the spiralling costs of a probe into allegations of plagiarism against one of its students.

The allegations, which emerged in late 2010, centred around suggestions a lecturer had assisted a student in an act of plagiarism, and the institute subsequently engaged in a cover-up.

The allegations were subject to two internal reviews by the GMIT registrar and its HR manager, after which Professor Bairbre Redmond, deputy registrar of UCD and Ed Madden BL were appointed in 2011 at a cost of €1,500-a-day each to independently probe the claims.

Mr Fennell said the €436,061 cost of the investigation was “not envisaged”. He said, however, that despite wishing to bring the matter to a conclusion, the institute could not be seen to influence the investigators’ work.

“As the matters under investigation related to an alleged cover-up by the institute, it was important to protect the independence of the investigation and it was not appropriate for GMIT to influence the conduct of the investigation or to terminate the investigation,” he said.

Higher Education Authority CEO Tom Boland told the committee GMIT failed in its duty of care in relation to the expenditure of exchequer funding, and that the HEA introduced revised governance reporting requirements in 2014.

“It is especially unacceptable that such high costs were incurred in the context of a challenging financial situation in the higher education sector,” he said.

Mr Fennell, meanwhile, said lessons had been learned as a result of the experience. “Particular consideration must be made in the terms of reference to allow provision for review of costs,” he said.


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