Uncertainty over time-frame for tech universities

Higher Education Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor

There is uncertainty about when third-level colleges can become technological universities (TUs) but the Government insists some will be in place by the end of the year.

It said a month ago that the first TUs would open by September. Law underpinning TUs, to be formed by the mergers of two or more institutes of technology, was only passed two days ago.

There is still a requirement for formal applications to be made and to be assessed by a panel of higher-education experts.

The stringent criteria to become a TU were set in 2012 by the Higher Education Authority (HEA), including thresholds under several headings such as levels of course provision and the qualifications of academic staff.

The Department of Education has said there were no changes to the criteria since the Technological Universities Bill was introduced in 2015, but that some “drafting changes” were made to clarify terminology.

Details of the process have not yet been decided and no applications have been made, but a spokesperson for Higher Education Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor told the Irish Examiner that “there will be technological universities by the end of the year”.

She later provided a written statement that is not as definitive but outlines the process.

Any applications will have to be assessed by an expert advisory panel, who would report back to the HEA, informing a recommendation to the minister. The statement says work is being done by consortia preparing TU applications to invest in improving performance in order to meet the criteria.

The TU4Dublin Alliance said its members — Blanchardstown, Dublin, and Tallaght institutes of technology — will accelerate preparations to apply for TU status now the law has been passed.

“We believe that together we will meet the criteria, and we would hope to submit our formal application before the end of this academic year,” it stated.

The Dublin group and the proposed Munster Technological University, to be formed by an amalgamation of Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and Institute of Technology Tralee, are considered the most advanced projects.

A CIT spokeswoman said discussions will be required with the department and HEA about the nature, format, and process of applying for TU designation before the timing of an application is decided.

“Now that the eligibility criteria have been finalised, we will be able to develop an accurate assessment of the position of the [Munster TU] consortium with respect to meeting the criteria, proceeding with a formal application and sustaining and developing a technological university,” she said.

An application is also expected by the end of this year for the proposed Technological University of the South East, to be formed by the merger of the Carlow and Waterford institutes of technology. A steering group said all preparatory work will be completed by July for an application later in 2018.

“Further to the recent mapping of data sets of both institutes, we will meet the national criteria,” it said.


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