Cowen to back college plan despite objections

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen will give the Government’s backing today to a controversial research collaboration between two universities which has already created major divisions within the third-level sector.

Trinity College Dublin (TCD) provost Dr John Hegarty and University College Dublin (UCD) president Dr Hugh Brady will this afternoon announce details of plans for significant sharing of research facilities and staff. But the weight accrued to the initiative by the scheduled attendance of Mr Cowen, Tánaiste Mary Coughlan and Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe will lead other universities to fear devastating impacts on their work.

While the allocation of designated state funding for TCD-UCD research projects is not now expected, the presidents of the other five universities believe the plan will lead to the creation of a two-tier higher education system with international and industry collaboration being placed at risk if the Government is seen to strongly support joint research activities at just two of the country’s 21 main third-level institutions.

When the Irish Examiner reported the planned merging of research functions by the two largest universities last week, it provoked angry reaction among some of the other colleges as it is perceived to go against Government policy of the last decade to promote collaboration.

University College Cork president Dr Michael Murphy and National University of Ireland Galway president Dr Jim Browne both said that, while they support collaboration, they would be concerned about the impact of exclusive sharing of research resources by TCD and UCD on regional development around other third-level institutions, particularly in terms of their research partnerships with industry and efforts to attract international students.

The secrecy of discussions between the Dublin universities and senior Government officials has also angered the other colleges.

One university source told the Irish Examiner yesterday even governors of TCD and UCD were in the dark about the planned agreement until it was reported last week. The move comes as colleges prepare submissions for shares of €300 million in funding from the Government’s Programme for Research in Third-Level Institutions, none of which — Mr O’Keeffe told the Irish Examiner last week — will be ring-fenced for joint projects between specific colleges.

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